21 October 2013


I bet you’re all wondering, "This is it? Are you really going to write a blog about a two-letter word? Are you that desperate for topics?" Well, yes and no. Yes, I am writing about it, and no, I’m not desperate for topics. Here in Brazil it is actually a topic unto itself (no pun, etc.), especially for language lovers. Portuguese speakers are hard-wired not to say the direct or indirect object it (because for them it’s understood), and they can’t imagine why we English speakers seem to need it so. We of course are hard-wired to say it, and can’t imagine how the Brazilians can drop it. How do you know what you’re talking about? Well, I’m told, you just do, so get with the program. (Or, as we would say, "Get with it!")

The first time this issue surfaced I was opening a present from a friend. "Gostou?" (Did you like?) she asked, as I succeeded in ripping off the wrapping paper. I knew the correct answer was "Gostei!" (I liked!) Now, this is good Portuguese, but it all sounded — and profoundly felt — wrong to me. First, there’s the fact that the exchange is conducted in the past tense, which seems strange because I’d only just unwrapped the present. I mean, we’re talking seconds here. But also, it seems wrong because without that direct object you’re just treading water. I need the it. Did you like it? Yes, I liked it. Otherwise, for us it’s baby talk, you know?

I’ve made a real effort to ignore it when speaking Portuguese. In point of fact, it’s become almost natural — normal even. I kind of get it. But I have found it hard to convince Brazilians who are learning to speak English of the importance of it. They don’t need it, so they don’t even hear it. For younger students I try to appeal to their everlasting love and admiration for Michael Jackson. I mean, listen carefully to this song. He’s not singing "Beat, beat," is he?

An awful lot of English-language communication would fall apart without the all-important it. Remember what our parents told us about our brains? They sure didn’t say "use or lose." 
And did your mother tell you that "You can’t have your cake and eat too"? I don’t think so. Can you imagine those old American Express card commercials, with that sonorous voice intoning, "Don’t leave home without!" Without what? Did Cole Porter write "Birds do, bees do, even educated fleas do?" No, because that would make English speakers scream, "Do what?!" (The actual title in Portuguese: Façamos — Let’s Do!) And what if you called the classic Jack Lemmon-Tony Curtis-Marilyn Monroe movie, "Some Like Hot!" I mean really, people, let’s get serious here. In that particular title it’s the it that’s it — isn’t it?

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