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Why do we use "to it" at the end of a sentence of this kind?

A. The word has a negative tone to it
B. The word has a negative tone

Does A. indicate a focus on the intrinsic nature of the negative tone being talked about, or is it just unnecessary fluff at the end of a sentence? Do these two sentences have the same meaning?

What is the term for this type of usage? Is it the same as when one says, "She has an air about her" or "There's a sadness to it"?

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  • It is the same usage as those two examples, yes. Whether there’s a term for it is a very good question. I’ve never heard of one, but there may well be one. Sep 5, 2013 at 22:28

2 Answers 2

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The technical term in rhetoric for "fluff," as you put it, is periphrasis. It's a way of expressing oneself by "beating around the bush" and not "getting to the point."

The examples you cite, however, do not seem to have a superfluity of words that we associate with periphrasis. In

"She has an air about her,"

the word about could be a spatial clue about this "air" she exudes in her demeanor: it is around her, about her, surrounding her.

Regarding

"There's a sadness to it,"

your use of the word intrinsic comes pretty close, I think, to what the sentence expresses. The word to functions as almost (but not quite) the opposite of about. Instead of the sadness being about "it", it's to it, which suggests to me the "intrinsic nature" of it, as you suggested.

There may not be a rhetorical term for this "phenomenon," but in general terms the "extra words" do serve to give an emphasis or intensification to the "tone," the "air," and the "sadness." The sentences with the "extra" words seem to draw attention to an aspect of the words in a way that the sentences could not without them.

Some other examples of this sort of construction:

  • His way of dealing with people has a certain edge to it, which I find difficult to tolerate.

  • She has a mysteriousness about her I find intriguing.

  • There seems to be a negative tone to the words he uses to describe almost everything other people find quite positive.

  • The smell of cinnamon has a unique property to it such that the smell transports me magically to my mother's kitchen when I was a kid, with my mom baking her to-die-for cinnamon buns. My mouth begins to water as I imagine myself biting into one of them, and I am transported briefly to Nirvana!

Let's take the "extra words" out of the above sentences to see if their excision makes a difference:

  • His way of dealing with people has a certain edge I find difficult to tolerate.

  • She has a mysteriousness I find intriguing.

  • The words he uses to describe almost everything other people find quite positive seem to have a negative tone.

  • The smell of cinnamon has a unique property such that the smell transports me magically to my mother's kitchen when I was a kid . . ..

What do you think?

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  • I think that if you have a good Extrameter this is excellent advice. But if one's Extrameter can't tell the extra words from the non-extras, it's not. Sep 6, 2013 at 0:17
  • It generally takes more than extra words to be considered to have a periphrastic construction. Although some definitions do say that periphrasis is a simple abundance of unnecessary words, its etymology shows it is more closely related to a circumlocutory (or roundabout) way of expressing something that can be said in fewer words. I’m not of the opinion that this is what would be considered periphrasis. Sep 6, 2013 at 5:13
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    @Jim: That's why I said, "The technical term in rhetoric for 'fluff,' as you put it, is periphrasis . . .. The examples you cite, however, do not seem to have a superfluity of words that we associate with periphrasis." In other words, the "words" in question are NOT fluff, and hence are not periphrasis. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. As for WHAT the words are, in rhetorical terms, I do not know, off-hand, but they do serve as emphasizers and intensifiers. Sep 6, 2013 at 19:51
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    @rhetorician: YES! Thank you, this is an elegant response that speaks to exactly what I was wondering. My sense was that it gave a kind of gentle emphasis on the innateness of the quality, kind of a little flourish that gives more color to the description.Your examples were helpful food for thought- the excision did serve to change the meaning, in some more subtly than in others. Without the "extra words" (whatever we should call this) it sometimes seems as though something is missing. Thanks!
    – sammy
    Sep 6, 2013 at 20:50
  • @Sammy: Thank you. I'm glad you were helped! Don Sep 6, 2013 at 21:13
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A. The word has a negative tone to it B. The word has a negative tone

Both have the same meaning. "A" may be said in other words like "The word itself has a negative tone". I would suggest that "A" underlines a clarification that the word being said always has a negative tone no matter how the speaker says it.

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