Insufficient: A Point/Counterpoint Debate Featuring Two Opinionated Jews

The debate below came about as the result of a conversation I recently shared with my cousin, Howie, in which we found ourselves on opposite sides of a grammatical and preferential quandary.  Howie had said that my ongoing use of the term “Suffices to say,” was irritating, if not entirely incorrect.  He claimed that “Suffice it to say” was the term I ought be utilizing, as it had become the more commonly accepted and understood manner of communication.  Considering that Howie and myself had often spoken about using this forum to debate some of the many topics on which we regularly butt heads, this seemed as good a place to start as any.  As we have an interest in this format becoming something of a regular feature on The Approvalholic, we would like to ask you, the readers, in addition to any comments you feel charged to share, to vote for one of the two arguments.  Then, when we post our next point/counterpoint debate, we will announce the winner of this one.  Enjoy!

‘Suffice it to Say’ is Sufficient to Say- By Howie

The heart of my issue is not even about whether “suffice it to say” is the correct phrase to use rather than “suffices to say.” The truth is that I don’t think the phrase should be used on the blog at all in any of its variations. One time is too many, and it is like adding insult to injury that the wrong version of the phrase is employed.

For many people, the phrase (“suffices to say” or “suffice it to say”) sounds pompous. It leaves the wrong impression. Personally, I always imagine the person saying the phrase to be wearing a monocle and top hat because it makes it bearable for me. While I recognize that the phrase is not really used in a pompous way in the blog, it still evokes the emotion unintentionally.

The following quote from the Urban Dictionary snarkily sums up this sentiment:

suffice to say – A phrase that is commonly used when a person has an IQ of, or less than, a tape dispenser and wants to sound smarter than he/she actually is.  (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=suffice%20to%20say)

Furthermore, it is not a phrase that most people use all that often, so the fact that it appeared three times this year in the far-too-infrequently posted blog is way more than enough.

Speaking of frequency, a quick Google search is helpful as a touchstone of the relative popularity of a given phrase. Here are the results of a Sept 8th, 2011 search that I did:

“suffice it to say” – 14,400,000 results

“suffice to say” – 12,400,000 results

“suffices to say” – 508,000 results

“it suffices to say” – 437,000 results

As far as which variation is most commonly used, suffice it to say that I rest my case there.

I think that you should go with the common usage in this case because otherwise you are more likely to distract people (like me) from the actual point of what you are writing about. It makes practical sense as a writer to use the most popular version of an idiom. You are using a rarely used version of a rarely used phrase for no real reason. Distraction! OCD Button Pusher! Shame on you!!!

That said, as far as the general grammatical correctness of “suffices to say” vs. “suffice it to say,” I refer you to the following web page:

http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/07/suffice-it-to-say.html

Note that the web article is not even asking the question of whether “suffices to say” is the correct term to use because it is assumed to be incorrect. It is not even a contender for second place!

If you want another fussily grammatical explanation, you should also read this:

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002548.html

Finally, a more practical approach to the problem of which version of “suffice…” is correct is to look at publications that are respected and see what version of the phrase they use.

I chose to look at the New York Times, but you can do this experiment with any professional website you want. I guarantee the results will be similar unless you choose a website like this:

http://www.pravda.ru/

A Google search on the nytimes.com for “suffice it to say” reveals 27,300 results while “suffices to say” has a mere 86 results. When you look at the context in which “suffices to say” is used, it only shows up as “it suffices to say”, never simply “suffices to say” (sans “it”). Furthermore, these instances are often in readers’ comments as opposed to actual articles written by official writers for the paper itself… unless you go back to the late 1800s. The New York Times used it then.

I guess it is good to know that “it suffices to say” may be the correct phrase to use if you have a time machine to take you to the 19th century, but even then people will probably think you are pompous for using it.

The Sufficiency of ‘Suffices to Say’- By Michael (a.k.a. The Approvalholic)

Let’s start here.  “Suffice it to say,” “Suffices to say,” “Suffice to say,” “Sufficed to say,” “It is sufficient to say,” and “It suffices to say” all mean the same thing.  While some may be more widely used than others, none are understood as out-and-out grammatical faux pas; and they all attend to the basic idea that the author is telling his readers that, while there may be more data available to support a written thought, idea or concept- the limited amount of data he is choosing to provide ought be enough.  Therefore, I can join with Howie in the notion that a conversation about right and wrong has little to no efficacy in this debate.

As to the use of any of these phrases being construed as “pompous,” while it would not be the first time that this adjective has been applied to my writing or, for the matter, my character, it’s difficult to see how it applies here.  As a reader, the message that a writer has consciously chosen to omit certain details in an effort to streamline a piece and attempt to get his ideas across in the simplest way possible always feels to me both informative and humble.  In my mind, it is a pompous author who, in spite of the fact that he has provided sufficient wordage, decides to bloat his writing with extraneous, overwrought detail.  Further, having been inspired by Howie’s ideas, I have purchased both a monocle (http://www.eyeglass.com/monocles.html?gclid=CMzv19DdkKsCFQhrKgodpm1KmA  I’m going with the tortoise-shell) and  top hat (http://www.hatsinthebelfry.com/category/mens-top-hats.html?source=googleads_top-hats&ctt_id=5036386&ctt_adnw=Google&ctt_kw={keyword}&ctt_ch=ps&ctt_entity=kw&gclid=CPmPjbHekKsCFcJrKgodEjUYtw the Belfry John Bull model) and  fully authorize all my readers to now peruse any and all Approvalholic pieces in the knowledge that I will be adorned in both at all times.

And what of the idea of popularity?  In a country where American Idol is the top rated program on television and Facebook is the primary model through which most people engage in intimacy, do we really wish to gauge what is most useful and appropriate based on Google hits?  I punched “Whole Foods” into Google and got 34,700,000.  Then I put in “McDonalds” and received 68,700,000 hits.  Am I to assume that Big Macs are more useful to my nutrition plan than organic cranberry couscous?  I tried “Justin Bieber” and got 619,000,000 hits, while Tom Waits only brought 38,100,000.  Perhaps I’ve been downloading the wrong music.  I ran a search on “monogamy,” and got 4,220,000 hits.  Then I tried “bestiality,” and got 7,470,000 hits.  What am I to glean from this data in regard to appropriate sexual practices?

If you’ve read even a small portion of The Approvalholic blog pieces, than you know the last thing I concern myself with, when transcribing my thoughts and feelings, are questions of popularity or appropriateness.  I can further say that Howie, a frequent reader and big fan, would freely admit that my willingness to speak “the unspeakable” and stay utterly transparent to my readers is a key element in his attraction to the blog.  Accordingly, I wish to remind him that you can’t have it both ways.  If you are globally attracted to my marching to the beat of my own drummer you can’t be locally critical of my employment of words and phrases which resonate for me rather than choosing ones that appeal to the general populace.  Howie speaks of choosing words that are idiomatically apropos.  The problem here is that the definition of idiomatic is “conforming to the idiom.”  And he knows full well that I don’t conform.  If I did, word and phrase choices would be the least of my problems in terms of changes.  I’d have to get rid of seventy-five percent of my pieces.

At the end of the day, my choice of utilizing the term “Suffices to say” is generated by the fact that I understand it be the most effective way for me to get my point across.  “Suffices” essentially means, “It would suffice.”  Therefore, “Suffice it to say,” feels like I’m saying, “It would suffice it to say.”  It sounds clunky and repetitive and ignorant.  And why, in an effort to be true to myself as a writer, would I employ a term that I loathe, when another term, which effectively makes the exact same point, is available?  If readers were to tell me that they did not understand what I was trying to say, the situation would be different.  But Howie is not denoting confusion.  He is denoting preference.  His preference.  The danger here is that he is not stating it merely as his preference.  He has tracked down others who share his preference in an effort to suggest to you that his preference is the “right” preference.  Pompous, indeed.

I have no such lofty goal in mind.  If you prefer to say “Suffice it to say,” I fully support you in saying that.  If my propensity to use “Suffices to say” makes you turn your back on this blog, you have my blessing in honoring yourself that way.

By the way, I prefer the term “Now and again” to the term “Now and then.”  It bugs the shit out of my father.  Just thought I’d warn you.

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  1. #1 by Otic on September 9, 2011 - 9:38 pm

    Language evolves. It grows and changes according to the times. That you referenced a site called ‘Urban’ dictionary is evidence of those changes.

    That someone would find a certain word or phrase attractive, or useful, and wish to utilize it in a conversation or piece of writing, regardless of its age, is completely subjective; As is someone else’s aversion to that word choice.

    As to age, your opening statement, “The heart of my issue…”, meaning, I assume, your central / main point, is an idiom referenced in books over a hundred years ago.

    Sounds like a personal trigger Rigberg. One that might prove to contain some interesting avenues of internal exploration, maybe even lead to a song!

    Suffices to say I am siding with the author on this one.

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