The Grammarphobia Blog

Take a listen, please!

Q: On CNN, all the anchors use the expression “take a listen” instead of just “listen” or “listen to this.” Does that sound as caustic to you as it does to me?

A: I don’t know about caustic, but it certainly sounds puffed up, condescending, and lame. I could go on, but let me quote from the entry for this “infantile phrase” in The Dimwit’s Dictionary (2d ed.), by Robert Hartwell Fiske:

“As inane as it is insulting, have (take) a listen obviously says nothing that listen alone does not. Journalists and media personalities who use this offensive phrase ought to be silenced; businesspeople, dismissed; public officials, pilloried.”

Unfortunately, this horse is out of the barn. I just googled “take a listen” and got nearly 1.3 million hits.

The expression hasn’t made it yet into modern dictionaries, but The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) includes a somewhat similar usage as a regionalism: “Would you like to give the CD a listen before buying it?”

The word “listen,” by the way, has been used as a noun for centuries in expressions like “to be on the listen” or “to have a proper listen.”

In fact, the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for “listen” as a noun dates from the 1300s. In an apparent reference to becoming deaf or hard of hearing, the writer wonders if someone “has losed the lysten.”

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