Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Make Sure and What?

Posted by Neal on February 9, 2013

Ben Zimmer passed an interesting coordination my way, from Buzzfeed, from an article on a new website called Agency Wank, which “is collecting the wankiest, cringiest copy lines from ad agency websites”:

Make sure and bookmark and visit Agency Wank. It’s updated daily.

Something about the phrase is a little odd. Not actually bad, but enough to stumble over and notice. It wasn’t the make sure and instead of make sure to (or be sure and). That’s interesting, but not odd. Like the idiom try and X, the phrase make/be sure and X is an example of asymmetric coordination. Make sure and go doesn’t mean the same thing as go and make sure.

Was it the coordination of the two verbs bookmark and visit after make sure? This coordination is a symmetric one; visit and bookmark Agency Wank means the same as bookmark and visit Agency Wank. So maybe the coexistence of an asymmetric and a symmetric coordination in the same verb phrase is what’s sounding strange.

Or not. I went to COCA and found 17 hits for the asymmetric make sure and X. In 15 of them, X consisted of just one VP, but two of them had two–nay, three or four:

  • So make sure and cultivate those and hug together, cry together, and just be community.
  • You make sure and come back and drop by and visit us again.

Those sound fine to me. OK, so maybe it was the fact that X does not consist of two coordinated VPs, but a single VP consisting of two verbs (bookmark, visit) and a shared direct object (Agency Wank). But why should that make a difference? Make sure and X is OK; bookmark and visit Agency Wank is OK; why wouldn’t make sure and bookmark and visit Agency Wank just as good?

I don’t know. I decided to go beyond Google and search Google for “make sure and * and *” and “try and * and *” to see if I could find other examples, and hear how they sounded. What I founded sounded OK:

  • Don’t try and mix and match print tops with your print jeans. (link)
  • To try and equalize and standardize child support throughout CA, the legislature created an algabraic equation….(link)
  • requiring students to try and recall and record information gathered in classroom interaction (link)

You might be able to throw out the first one if you take mix and match to be an idiom that acts as a single verb. But not the other two. After reading a few examples like those, I had to wonder what could possibly have made the original example stand out. Now I notice that all the new Google examples have try and X instead of make sure and X, but if I blame the weirdness on that, I’m just looking for a scapegoat. In fact, looking at the original example again, I have concluded…

…that actually, it’s not so bad. That’s the trouble with poking around at weird syntax. Repeat it enough, and unlike individual words, what started off as an odd phrase starts to sound better. I’m OK with Make sure and bookmark and visit Agency Wank now. And what’s more, just look what else I found in my search:

Before stacking the cakes make sure and carve and cover all of your cakes in fondant.

That’s right–it’s an asymmetric make sure and X construction, with the shared direct object thing going on, in a right-node wrapping coordination!

6 Responses to “Make Sure and What?”

  1. Keri said

    You know, I think it should be “visit and bookmark”. If I say it to myself in that order, it doesn’t sound as awkward to me – the only reason I can think of is that before you can bookmark a site, you need to visit it. Usually with multiple “and” coordinates like that, I tend to think of them in order. Do this THEN(and) that THEN(and) another. The cake one threw me off, too, until I realized they meant to even out the layers by carving before covering in fondant. It didn’t make sense to carve the cake before icing it!

    But I don’t think this is a very good explanation – more of a just-so sort of reasoning, possibly influenced by computer coding or how I was taught to write in my university English classes.

  2. Stan said

    “Make sure and bookmark and visit” sounded a bit odd to me too, at first. I think one factor is the anti-chronological order that Keri mentions: part of me got distracted by the mechanics of bookmarking a page before visiting it. Another possible factor is rhythm: the line feels awkward or unrehearsed to me, as though one of the elements (bookmark or visit) were added as an afterthought without regard for the prosodic or logical consequences.

    Incidentally, I wrote about try and at Macmillan Dictionary Blog recently and was surprised by how many people simply refuse to accept it even as an informal idiom.

  3. From a copy-editing rather than a linguistic perspective, changing the constructions to infinitives–“try to,” “make sure to”–helps. Even better is the Yoda Fix: “There is no try.”

  4. To each his own, but all the “make sure ands” sound awkward to me. And such a simple fix with “to” for “and.”

    Sounds (at least momentarily) like you are being asked to do three things rather than two:

    1. make sure
    2. bookmark
    3. visit

    Agree with the comments about the order of bookmarking and visiting. Same reason the latter sentence doesn’t say to “cover and carve” but “carve and cover.”

    Also found it surprising that this sounded fine:
    “You make sure and come back and drop by and visit us again.”

    Leaving aside the “make sure and” issue, is it not at least somewhat awkward and redundant to ask people to “visit us again” after you’ve already asked them to “come back and drop by” earlier in the sentence?

    Thanks for the post!

  5. Ellen K. said

    I find it just as odd with “make sure to” instead of “make sure and”. I think the out-of-order-ness is part of it. (Though it is possible to bookmark [or add to favorites] a link before visiting it in both my web browsers.)

    But, thinking about it, I think it’s not actually out of order. They want to you KEEP visiting it. And thus, it actually is a coordination of unlikes. “Bookmark” is something you do once. “Visit” is something you do repeatedly. And so it doesn’t quite work. And so we read it as visiting once, and then the out-of-order-ness is an issue, since most of us visit, then bookmark.

  6. Duncan said

    “What I founded sounded …” Hehehe.

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