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This is a phrase I've heard many people use, and it sounds wrong to me; e.g.:

The thing about that is, is that she might take it the wrong way.

It seems to treat "The thing [...] is"—the entire phrase—as the subject of the sentence. Of course, even if that were allowed, the comma placement would still be questionable.

I'm curious to know:

  • Is there a name for this wording?
  • Is it specific to a certain dialect?
  • Is its etymology known?
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1  
There is also a resumptive-that: "The thing is that, when you look at it in a certain way, that..." –  Kosmonaut Feb 17 '11 at 18:51
    
Honestly, I can't recall every having read this. Not totally sure about never having heard it, though. Language (used) is weird. Just sayin'... –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 17 '11 at 19:57
    
I've also heard "... the reason being is that ..." which seems like a similar duplication. –  psmears Feb 17 '11 at 20:15
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4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In the linguistics literature, they're referred to as either "double is" constructions or "thing is constructions". Various papers have been published on the subject which you should find if you Google these terms.

In one possible analysis, what is happening is that there is effectively an element such as "what" which is implied:

"(What) the thing is, is that I'm going to be late"

"(What) my feeling was, is/was that..."

Note that although they're referred to as "double is" or "thing is" constructions, the construction doesn't necessarily involve either a double "is" (notice "...was, is..." is possible) or "thing" (notice the example with "My feeling").

I'm not aware of a claim that the phenomenon is restricted to a particular dialect.

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4  
Here is a Language Log article on the topic. –  Kosmonaut Feb 17 '11 at 18:52
    
Very nice, exactly the kind of answer I was hoping for! –  Dan Tao Feb 17 '11 at 20:08
    
I was just about to ask this same question in a general sense, but this answer nails it. Kind of what I expected, actually. +1 and a badge for you. –  Robusto Jun 14 '13 at 15:44
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Once in a while, there is a rare person who uses a triple is. –  Ross Presser Aug 31 '13 at 19:20
    
Must admit I hadn't noticed the triple is -- interesting! –  Neil Coffey Aug 31 '13 at 20:48
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It not only sounds wrong, it is wrong. And the introductory words are not a phrase, but a clause that already contains both subject and verb and so does not require a secondary, redundant verb.

"Double is" is not a sufficient name, since the usage may not include any form of the verb "is", such as "The problem being, is that..."

It is correctly called a "double copula" (a copula being the linguistic term for a word used to link the subject of a sentence to a predicate).

According to the third edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage (as revised by Robert Burchfield), the double copula originated around 1971 in the United States and had spread to the United Kingdom by 1987.

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I'm not sure "Double is" is not a sufficient name for this particular example, but it's certainly too localised for me to bother remembering for future reference. On the other hand, I positively expect to get a chance to mention double copula on some future question here. –  FumbleFingers Mar 2 '12 at 2:42
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This is incorrect grammar. However, it looks like something which was spoken out loud: people can not delete or edit their previous utterances, so people often construct sentences verbally which are not strictly grammatical.

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@horatio: There are a lot of linguistic phenomena that aren't strictly "correct" in terms of formal, written English. They have names, they are often systematic, and they have been studied. –  Kosmonaut Feb 17 '11 at 18:48
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Agreed: just because you might decide that a phenomenon is "incorrect" (which really just means either you don't like it or don't know how to analyse it-- so what...) doesn't mean that it happens "randomly" and not susceptible to formal study. –  Neil Coffey Feb 17 '11 at 18:57
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@horatio: In fairness, you argued that "incorrect grammar" was a suitable answer to the question of what this phenomenon is called. I don't think it is outrageous to take this to mean that you don't believe it is a systematic process. –  Kosmonaut Feb 17 '11 at 19:14
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Let us try to keep in mind, though, that blackboard grammar is artificial (as is written language in general) -- especially in English, where many of our formalised rules were imposed by people who thought English should be more like Greek and Latin. Things like pauses and repetitions probably ought not to appear in formal writing, but dialogue (whether live or written) would be quite alien without them. –  bye Feb 17 '11 at 19:15
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@horatio: I am just saying that Neil Coffey's comment was not out of left field. –  Kosmonaut Feb 17 '11 at 19:41
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I came to this page after finding Andy Murray being quoted on the Guardian as saying, "What being a good team member is is performing the best in your sport." I think this is an interesting question; when people start a clause with a wh- word, it can be difficult to avoid the double copula, because another verb needs to be found quickly (i.e. What being a good team member means).

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But the Andy Murray quote is a normal cleft (or do I mean pseudo-cleft - I can never remember which is which). The original example is grammatically different. –  Colin Fine Jun 22 '12 at 9:40
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