The Unbearable Obnoxiousness of ‘Being’

(Blogger’s note: Regular readers should consider this the third and final installment in my brief series on using forms of “to be,” the other two being which also includes “‘To Be’ or Not ‘to Be’?” and “To Be Clear.”)

There’s a conversation I have with my first-year composition classes almost every semester, usually triggered by a student’s question about one of the many things they were warned in high school never to do in an essay: Use first-person pronouns, use second-person pronouns, begin a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “because,” end a sentence with a preposition, and so on.

Can they do that in my class?, they want to know.

My answer is that there’s literally nothing they can’t do in a piece of writing, if they have a good enough reason—although if they’re going to use the F-word, for example, or an ethnic slur, they had better have a darn good reason. The corollary, I tell them—the responsibility that goes along with the freedom—is that they should think through and have a good reason for everything they do in a piece of writing.

I believe that’s sound advice, not just for first-year comp students but for writers in general.

However, having said all that, if I were Supreme Arbiter of the English Language and had the opportunity to eliminate one word—not merely ban it, but eradicate it entirely—that word would be “being.” Not all forms of to be, mind you. Just that one.

The main reason for my irrational and perhaps unhealthy antipathy toward this one word is that it’s the primary culprit in what I’ve come to regard as the most egregiously obnoxious construction ever to defile an otherwise-acceptable sentence: “being that.”

“Being that I was an only child ….” “Being that the chapter wasn’t supposed to be on the test ….” “Being that my teammates looked up to me ….” “Being that Poe was one of the greatest poets of the 19th century ….” What all those sentences have in common is that the first two words make me not want to read the rest. In fact, they make me want to wad the essays up, douse them in lighter fluid, and set them ablaze while performing a ritual dance.

OK, that’s going a bit too far. But as you may have deduced by now, I do not like that construction.

What’s so bad about it? Let’s start with the fact that it blatantly flouts Orwell’s rule for conciseness, using two words where one will most certainly do. Clearly, when the writer says “being that,” what he or she really means is “since” or “because.” Think how much better the sentences above would read if the writer had simply said what he or she meant: “Since I was an only child ….” “Because my teammates looked up to me ….”

“Being that,” by comparison, just sounds awful. It’s an inversion, and a perversion, of a more common but only slightly better construction, “that being.” I’m not a big fan of “that being,” either, not least because in student essays it almost always signals a sentence fragment, with the verbal “being” substituted for an actual verb: “That being my favorite restaurant” instead of “That was my favorite restaurant.”

In addition, “that being,” even if used correctly in an introductory phrase, often requires two additional words (“the case”) in order to make any sense, thereby once again violating Orwell’s dictate.

I’m sure there are times when “being” is a perfectly good and perhaps even indispensable word choice. I just can’t think of any right now. And that being the case, I’m going to conclude this blog post, being that I’m finished and all.

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