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: We don’t know about caustic, but it certainly sounds puffed up, condescending, and lame. We could go on, but let us 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. We just googled “take a listen” and got 725,000 hits.

The expression hasn’t made it yet into modern dictionaries, but The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) and Cambridge Dictionaries Online include examples of somewhat similar usages.

Here’s the American Heritage example: “Would you like to give the CD a listen before buying it?”

And this is the example from Cambridge Dictionaries: “Have a listen to this!”

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.”

[Note: This post was updated on Jan. 23, 2016.]

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