it depends on how you use matters and depends.
August 18, 2009 9:37 PM   Subscribe

Help explain why my writing partner constantly uses a word in a way I find weird and incorrect. A question that anyone can answer.

Okay, I want to start this question off without biasing anything. So, take a look at the following sentences:

"Are you going to stop deleting my MetaFilter posts?" "That _______: Are you going to stop asking questions about cat declawing?"

Okay, what word did you place into the blank? I would put the word "depends" there. My writing partner uses "matters". Is it just me, or is that utterly, totally bizarre? Bizarre to the point where I want him to stop doing it because people reading our scripts might find it bizarre, and I don't want to do anything to take them out of what we're writing. If the reader is anything like me, it looks as weird as if he used the word watermelon.

So, all I can tell you about the guy that is relevant is that we both went to the same college, but I grew up in LA raised by a New Yorker and a San Franciscan, and he was raised in Sarasota FL by a New Jerseyite and a South African. He's a very literate, educated guy. Could it be some weird regional thing?
posted by Doctor Suarez to Writing & Language (54 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
For what it's worth, I have never heard such usage, nor does it seem correct.
posted by The Deej at 9:42 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, I have never ever heard that usage. Another vote for the depends camp.
posted by peacheater at 9:43 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never heard that before and that phrasing would make me pause.

I did, however, find it in this yahoo answers post after google searching, so there is one other person who does this, at least. Maybe it is your writing partner?!
http://id.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070927141449AAgBnfL
posted by Acer_saccharum at 9:44 PM on August 18, 2009


Totally bizarre.
posted by The World Famous at 9:46 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is he saying is as a question? As in, "That matters that I'm deleting your MetaFilter posts?" It's no less awkward, I suppose.

But I agree with everyone above me - I've never heard it being used that way.
posted by chan.caro at 9:53 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That seems really weird to me. Maybe it comes from another language.
In Germany people say 'bitte?', which also means please, if they don't understand what was said. In Cincinnati people say 'please?' in the same way as Germans say 'bitte?'.
This confuses many non-locals.
posted by tresbizzare at 9:53 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Never ever heard that before. Is English his first language? It seems like the sort of thing that might occur if you were translating a similar phrase in a different language into English using an imperfect translator.

Maybe he's thinking "the outcome of this is a matter of the outcome of that" and therefore using the word 'matters'? Maybe it's some throwback from some old philosophical views of matter as something that depends on change to be shaped into a form? I'm perplexed.
posted by lwb at 9:53 PM on August 18, 2009


'depends' is correct; 'matters' seems outrageously incorrect.
posted by jak68 at 9:58 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ask him to say it out loud. Maybe when he hears it he'll realize it's wrong.

It almost sounds like one of those weird language mistakes stroke victims sometimes make. (Not that I think that's what happened to him, not at that age)

Very odd.
posted by Bonzai at 10:07 PM on August 18, 2009


agreement with Bizarre consensus.
posted by milestogo at 10:13 PM on August 18, 2009


I never in a million years would have understood what your writing partner was trying to say.

It's almost stranger than that time a lady told me, "I don't have any kids, no pun intended."
posted by artychoke at 10:13 PM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for answering the question so quickly and in such great numbers. No, he's definitely a native English speaker. The only thing I can imagine is that his dad's South African heritage might include using the word that way, which would explain why he finds it to be the most normal thing in the world. (I once mentioned it to him, and he said "everyone" says it that way.)
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:22 PM on August 18, 2009


Yes, very bizarre. If I were to guess at what is going on, I think he's using it as "matters whether", where "whether" is implied by the colon (or semicolon). Still strange though.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:27 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Another vote for bizarre. I think you should definitely not put that in any scripts. If I encountered that while reading, I would come to a screeching halt while I tried to figure out what the hell was going on. (For reference, I've lived in SoCal and NYC.)
posted by equalpants at 10:37 PM on August 18, 2009


What a wonderful turn of phrase! Completely bizarre for sure (because it is new to us), but in some ways it makes a lot of sense. I could see this becoming mainstream. I like how with 'depends' the meaning focus is on the logical proposition that 'depends' signals, but with 'matters' you get sort of a value judgment sense going on, where the meaning focus conveys more about the 2nd speaker's stance regarding the first question (and less snarkily). In other words, I see 'matters' as more cooperative than 'depends'. I interpret pragmatic reads as the following:

1: "Are you going to stop deleting my MetaFilter posts?"
2: "That depends: Are you going to stop asking questions about cat declawing?"
Pragmatic Translation: 2 is saying, "No, I'm not going to stop until you change your behavior (i.e. ask appropriate questions).

1: "Are you going to stop deleting my MetaFilter posts?"
2: "That matters: Are you going to stop asking questions about cat declawing?"
Pragmatic Translation: Yeah, I hear your question (it has validity/weight, i.e. it matters), but I need you to change your behavior.

As with anything, especially anything novel, your interpretations may vary.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:38 PM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


It looks, sounds, and feels absolutely wrong. I've never heard of such a thing.

The only way I can square it with my English is to assume that it means "on that matter". So, "You gonna wash the dishes?"; "On that matter: you gonna sweep that floor?" Even as "for that matter" doesn't make much sense to me.

But, as verb? No way. Just no way.

And I'm from southern Missouri, and love Southern speech patterns. I don't know anybody from Dixie who says that either.
posted by Netzapper at 10:40 PM on August 18, 2009


I'm South African, and I've never seen 'matters' used like that. I say it must be the New Jerseyite's fault!

We do call our traffic lights 'robots' though - which some might think is a bit weird.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 10:42 PM on August 18, 2009


There's some other ways that "matters" could be used to make more sense (at least, to most of us). But not that one.

And you can switch "depends" around to "That depends on whether you'll stop asking questions about cat declawing?" but you'd never say "That matters on whether you'll stop asking questions about cat declawing."

Try quizzing him on other variations of "depends" to see if you can narrow down his approach to this (eg, "The result depends on the process.") Is he saying that it means the same, or that it works on its own, but has a different context?

After reading this thread, "matters" fits into that "it doesn't look like a real word anymore" department for me.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:49 PM on August 18, 2009


Oooh, another read could be that the phrase 'That matters' is an elided form of 'That matters to me, because...'

This also kind of reminds me of the regional use (upper midwest I think) of the word 'anymore' without a negative (don't, isn't, etc.). The phenomenon is called 'positive anymore' and looks like this: This drink tastes like crap anymore. Anymore, I go to work. And other sentences anymore.

Anyways, I see a parallel there, but I'm not sure what it is. I'm sorry I can't answer your question better. It could be a regional thing, or slightly different usage rules and meaning that he's got in his head for 'matters'. Or just a one off quirk. It is worth noting though that every single word has a slightly different meaning and usage for everybody. We just have no way to truly compare this, and we more or less agree on all these meanings to the point that the subtle differences don't reveal themselves in most writing or conversation. No two (people's) lexicons are the same, but they're close enough that we meet our communication goals.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:55 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


South African, you say! Well, yes that can lead to all sorts of nifty and colloquial constructions. My South African friend is always coming up with new phrases that sound bizarre but entertaining to my stateside ears.

(I mean, for crying out loud, they call traffic lights "robots.")
posted by rokusan at 11:00 PM on August 18, 2009


Wow, so that actually doesn't sound ridiculous to me at first, but it's certainly non-standard, not something i would say, and i don't think it's *correct*. But my brain is perfectly willing to accept "It matters whether you're going to do X" - the general word meanings are all there, matters = is a thing of importance, etc... the lengthier phrasing that gets shortened down to that goes more like "For my answer, it matters whether you're going to..." it's nothing I'd give him flack about unless it were specifically in his writing. So I'd just shrug at it as a 'nifty and colloquial construction', as rokusan says, unless it's in a situation where he would want to have any non-americanisms or unusual turns of phrase pointed out. Like, if he's trying to write for the NYTimes, or otherwise for a general American audience where he doesn't want 'strange' phrasing to be part of the atmosphere of the piece.
posted by Lady Li at 11:08 PM on August 18, 2009


I will agree with everyone else, it isn't bizarre, it's flat out wrong.
posted by crossoverman at 11:08 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Time for a new writing partner? (I jest.) There's no standard English definition for "matters" that would allow for your partner's usage of the word there. I also checked the thesaurus for synonyms of "depends," because I agree with you, insofar as that's what I would place there, too. No luck. Seems like a colloquialism, definitely.

(When I read that sentence, I actually just said "blank" in my head. Commitment issues, clearly.)
posted by metalheart at 11:32 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's weird, which isn't so bad inherently, but it's also utterly confusing. That's the sort of thing where I'd sit there, rereading it over and over, trying to figure out what it means or if it's a mistake. Definitely not something you want anyone reading your scripts to go through; it's jarring and distracting.
posted by Nattie at 11:42 PM on August 18, 2009


Wrong wrong wrong. Grew up in Chicago, live in Los Angeles with my New York-born wife who's done some script reading for a major studio and some independents, and that would be a red flag. "That depends: are you" is a shorter, more conversational form of "Well, that depends on whether or not you are", and similar, totally typical and accepted. "That matters" is just plain odd.
posted by davejay at 12:04 AM on August 19, 2009


I've never heard that. I'm from the Midwest and now in the Northwest.

It does sound like an odd ESL translation to me. When he says "everyone says it that way," have you ever pinned him down and said, "give me an example of who?"
posted by Bueller at 12:17 AM on August 19, 2009


Its not bizarre, its just wrong. Definitely comes across as a mistranslation - depends and matters are conceptionally similar (or can be in certain contexts) but they can't be used in a straight replacement of each other.

Honestly though, if he's as literate and educated as you say he is, I find it hard to believe this has never been mentioned before, so it seems unlikely that he'll change.
posted by missmagenta at 12:47 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I cringed when I read your post because this sounds like the type of thing one of my acquaintances would do. His categorical butchering of language around me, a pedantic grammar nerd, has left me with bad memories of biting my tongue.

So, yeah... awkward and semantically incorrect.
posted by spiderskull at 1:30 AM on August 19, 2009


I was thinking about this from a Swedish point of view, and I think that the meaning of "it depends" – Det beror [på] – could be translated into "it matters" if someone was having a bad dictionary & thesaurus day.

I don't recall hearing such usage though it doesn't sound unplausible; Swenglish is an accepted term here.
posted by monocultured at 2:27 AM on August 19, 2009


No, I've never heard this, and I would be quite puzzled if I came across it in any written matter. No pun intended (I lie! still LOLing at artychoke's story).

Can you tell us how he uses a preposition or conjuction with this? It matters on? It matters if? It matters whether?

The closest I can come in trying to tease out the usage logic here is:

Me: Are you going to do X, no matter what?

You: No; it matters whether Y happens.

is more or less equal to

Me: Are you going to do X?

You: It depends on Y.

But, really it seems very, very much like an ESL thing... maybe even one I've encountered. I can so easily imagine a non-fluent ESL speaker answering a question like, "will you rent that place?" with "it matters the price." So, maybe there is someone he has spent a lot of time with (a grandparent?) with certain language quirks as a non-native speaker?
posted by taz at 2:42 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I used to use "matter" in such situations as a child! I clearly remember my mother correcting me.

I'm an American, native English speaker, and did not speak or have exposure to any other languages or ESL speakers as a child. I don't think anyone I know/knew used "matter" in this way - none of my family do as far as I'm aware of now.

I'm trying to remember my logic, and I think I knew that "It doesn't matter" meant that something was unimportant. Thus, in my child-brain, "It matters if" meant that the following things were important. I guess my usage went from there, eg saying "I may stop crying - it matters if you buy me a toy or give me a cookie."

Even now, I know in my head it's 100% wrong, but it doesn't sound as bizarre or crazy to my ears as it does to others in this thread.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 3:34 AM on August 19, 2009


Definitely not idiomatic English, so even if there is some obscure grammatical rule which allows this kind of construction, it's a detriment to the prose to use it anyway.
posted by Biru at 4:08 AM on August 19, 2009


Could he be using it as a shortening of the phrase "pfft, like that matters: when are ..."?
posted by gjc at 4:47 AM on August 19, 2009


For me "matters" and "depends" share enough semantic space that it seems fine to me in principle. I think the example is pretty weird though.
posted by wobh at 5:31 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gomez_in_the_South: I'm South African, and I've never seen 'matters' used like that. I say it must be the New Jerseyite's fault!

Can't pin that one on NJ. It is a puzzling and not at all normal use of "matters" in this part of the US.

I spent a couple minutes just now saying the sentences out loud and nope, no way.
posted by crankylex at 5:38 AM on August 19, 2009


It's not just strange, it's wrong.

"Are you going to stop deleting my MetaFilter posts?" "That matters: ..."

That is referring to the deleting of the posts. But the condition that follows is the content of the post. So one word refers to the preceding clause, the other word points to the latter (the dependent condition that would cause your posts to not be deleted). Which is why depends is the correct word.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:42 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, complete non-sequitor, but I really despise the phrase "can you explain me [...]" as opposed to "can you explain to me [...]". I keep seeing this in AskMe posts (thankfully not this one) and it drive me up a fucking wall.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:44 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Totally weird. But totally understandable. If it's scripts you are working on I could see that usage working for someone, and ringing true. Because, you know, people say weird shit sometimes. Like your partner.

Of course, for it to work like that it'd have to be calculated - you can't just sprinkle it in as if everyone says it because they don't. It's really pretty strange usage.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:58 AM on August 19, 2009


I agree with everyone that this is completely nonstandard American English. But for a complete answer we'd need to know more about South African variations. I mean, I've never heard of this in any form of English but it could exist.
posted by chinston at 6:02 AM on August 19, 2009


I've never heard it for any version of American English. I haven't heard it for South African English, though my sample size is minute there, but that's irrelevant: you're sending this in as scripts to people in North America, so unless it's being written as idiomatic use by either a non-native speaker or by a speaker in some place where it would be normal, either because of the dialect or interference from another native language, it's bizarre and unclear. I'm not really sure what it's supposed to mean, except something along the lines of "Like that matters! Are you going to stop doing this much worse thing first?", which gets to sort of the same point as "it depends", but it's a lot of work to decode that, and it shouldn't be.

Another vote for take it out of the script, except in those rare cases where something non standard is appropriate.
posted by jeather at 6:17 AM on August 19, 2009


> Totally weird. But totally understandable. If it's scripts you are working on I could see that usage working for someone, and ringing true. Because, you know, people say weird shit sometimes. Like your partner.

Of course, for it to work like that it'd have to be calculated - you can't just sprinkle it in as if everyone says it because they don't. It's really pretty strange usage.


An excellent answer, and this is what you should tell your partner. Not "It's wrong wrong wrongety wrong, and my imaginary internet friends said so!," which is stupid, unscientific, and worst of all unproductive, and not even "Sorry, pal, that's not standard usage, so stop saying and writing it," which is accurate but will probably cause a defensive reaction. Just point out that it isn't standard, so most people won't get it (you can produce this thread as evidence if necessary, but warn your partner that it won't be pleasant reading), but it might be useful in a script as an idiosyncratic turn of speech.
posted by languagehat at 6:19 AM on August 19, 2009


"Are you going to stop deleting my MetaFilter posts?"
"That _______: Are you going to stop asking questions about cat declawing?"


What about this:

"Are you going to stop deleting my MetaFilter posts?"
"That depends: Are you going to stop asking questions about cat declawing?"
[LATER THAT DAY]
"Okay, I promise to stop asking questions about cat declawing."
"That doesn't matter. I've changed my mind; I'm going to keep deleting your Metafilter posts."

Like peanut butter milkshake said, "depends" and "doesn't matter" seem to be used in the exact opposite way. So while using "matters" as a synonym for "depends" is something that people just don't really say, there's at least a logical reason for him saying it.

Which is to say, his usage is weird and bizarre, but he's probably not just pulling it out of his butt here.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:28 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's definitely wrong, but I'd assume the phrase is a mistaken cross-pollination between "That depends, are you going to keep asking declawing questions?" and "It matters whether or not you're going to keep asking declawing questions." I can definitely see saying that and not hearing the difference after years, especially if one of his parents did that.
posted by Schismatic at 7:16 AM on August 19, 2009


Totally weird and wrong, but it would be pretty funny in a script about somebody infuriatingly butchering the language.
posted by HotToddy at 7:42 AM on August 19, 2009


I appealed to dictionary.com, and maybe he was going for the idiomatic "for that matter," meaning as far as that is concerned; as for that. E.g., "For that matter, you are no better qualified to judge than I."

But he somehow misapplied or shortened it to "that matters."
posted by That takes balls. at 8:25 AM on August 19, 2009


As the South African folks on the thread have said, it's not a South African-ism.

I'm 44 and have been a teacher of English and a teacher of English as a Second Language and an editor and managed Internet forums, and I have never encountered it before today.

So I would suggest that this is his own unique idiolect.

My concern is that if he says "everyone says that" he's got a tin ear for language, which would be a bit of a drawback in a writing partner.

Does he make characters say it? Because that's the kind of thing that would make me draw back from a manuscript with revulsion--if there's one thing I hate (and there are literally millions), it's characters whose dialogue doesn't sound natural.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:32 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it supposed to be sarcastic? I can see it, if the emphasis is (Oh yeah, right, like) that matters; you gonna declaw your cat again? If that, then I can see how it makes sense. And would make more sense in your script if you inserted some parentheticals to indicate sarcasm.

If not, then... partner is just weird, yo.
posted by headspace at 9:04 AM on August 19, 2009


Yet another South African here to say that sounds really weird.
posted by ashputtel at 9:21 AM on August 19, 2009


idiolect

I love this word. It looks like the root is idiot instead of (I presume) idiom. But "idiot dialect" is far more apt. Although I'm sure the special snowflakes think their English mangling is somehow helping the evolution of the language.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:32 AM on August 19, 2009


It's terribly weird. Can your partner show you examples from other people's writing? If this a common usage I'd love to know where.
posted by chairface at 9:41 AM on August 19, 2009


Civil_Disobedient: "49idiolect

I love this word. It looks like the root is idiot instead of (I presume) idiom. But "idiot dialect" is far more apt. Although I'm sure the special snowflakes think their English mangling is somehow helping the evolution of the language.
"

idio is a Greek root meaning 'of a particular person' or 'individual'. An idiolect is a particular person's dialect at point in time in their life. It's a term to refer to the specific way an individual speaks.

Also, I don't think that people have this instinctual or moral imperative to help or hurt the evolution of language. We just use it and it changes. That goes for all of us. For example, I notice that in your sentence above, you started a sentence with 'although', used the contracted form of 'I am', and 'snowflake' in a new, metaphorical sense; you also dropped the relativizer 'that' and you inserted a determinative 'the' before 'language'. These are all features of your idiolect at 9:32 am on August 19th. There's no judgment there, and I don't think you were intending to do any aid or damage to the evolution of English, even though the semantic content of your proposition addresses that notion directly.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:24 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gah, complementizer 'that', not relativizer.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2009


Just chiming in to say you cannot blame Sarasota, Florida for this either. I was raised in Sarasota and currently live in Sarasota and on behalf of the residents of Sarasota, I say "matters" in that context is wrong.
posted by Jezebella at 1:12 PM on August 22, 2009


I have to buck the tide here- it's not a unique usage, I've definitely heard "it matters whether" or "it matters if" used this way. The only memory of it I can place for sure is a friend who was born and raised in Fort Wayne, IN. But I'm pretty sure I've heard it elsewhere, though rarely - it sounds kinda (white) ghetto, or country to my ear, if not specifically regional.

That said, I do agree with everyone else that you should under no circumstances use it in a script, unless it's in the mouth of a character who's supposed to sound colorful.
posted by hap_hazard at 9:28 PM on August 22, 2009


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