Oxforddictionaries.com have given the following title to one of their articles:

Nine words you didn't know had offensive origins

Of course, I'm not in a position to question the competence of the editors, and the title of the post is a mere provocation, but... can someone, please, parse it for me? IMHO the sentence in full is:

The nine words that, you didn't know, had offensive origins

The "you didn't..." part would be then a non restrictive clause and it could be omitted, and the "that" would not be a conjunction between "words" and "you" but between "words" and "had". Therfore, it shouldn't have been omitted. Right?...

(Funny thing, though. If I were to say it myself without giving it too much thought, I'd of course go with "Nine words you didn't know had offensive origins", because it just sounds right to me. But the question is - isn't the accepted usage in this case grammatically "flawed" in a way?

  • 2
    You're overthinking it. Go with what feels natural. It's grammatically fine, and sounds better than the tortured version. – Robusto Aug 18 '15 at 10:55
  • I read it as a restrictive clause. It distinguishes between those words already known to have "offensive" origins and those you did not realize had offensive origins. It's mispunctuated, IMO. – TRomano Aug 18 '15 at 11:20

I agree with you that there is an unexpressed that or which, but I disagree with your commas:

The nine words [that] you didn't know had offensive origins

I can sort of see your point. If we replace you didn't know with unbeknownst to you, we get

[Here are] nine words that, unbeknownst to you, have offensive origins.

Here, the commas look good, and are even necessary.


Nine words [which] you didn't know had offensive origins

is actually a little different. I see "had offensive origins" as the object of the transitive verb know, and "which you didn't know had offensive origins" as modifying words.

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