Q: When you were speaking at our library, I posed a question about the use of “take and put” on almost every cooking and craft program on TV. You sort of dismissed the question and certainly didn’t answer it. I watch a lot of these programs. I hope you can shed some light on this usage.
A: Sorry if I disappointed you at the library. The “take and put” construction – or, more broadly, “take and [verb]” – isn’t something I had researched at the time. But I’ve had a chance to look into it a bit, and I think I can shed some light on what’s going on grammatically.
In a sentence like “Now we take and put in the butter” or “Take and stir the mixture,” two verbs of the same form, linked by “and,” share a subject and refer to a single action, not two.
This happens not only with the combination “take and [verb],” but also with another common sequence, “go (or “go ahead”) and [verb],” as in “Go and simmer for five minutes.”
Obviously, the “take” and the “go” parts are superfluous. The Oxford English Dictionary describes these combinations as colloquial usages, and it’s true that today they’re generally found only in very casual speech.
Like you, I notice them in cases where a speaker is explaining or demonstrating something. This may account for their use in cooking and crafts shows on TV.
The OED describes “take” as “one of the elemental words of the language,” and says it “also enters into a great number of idiomatic phrases, which are often difficult to analyse.”
One of these is the phrase “take and,” which the OED says means the same thing as “go and.” Here are a couple of the citations given: “If you do so I will take and tell father” (1836), and “She took and died inside of three months” (1977).
The OED has many more citations for “go and,” dating back to around the year 1000.
In modern colloquial use, the OED explains, “go” is linked by “and” to a coordinated verb, with the result that “the force of go is very much weakened or disappears altogether.” In fact, the OED adds, “go is often nearly redundant.”
Among the dictionary’s citations are these:
1600, in Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “Would’st thou have me go & beg my food?”
1631, John Donne’s Poems: “Goe and catch a falling starre.”
1755, in Hugh Walpole’s Correspondence: “Don’t go and imagine that £1,200,000 was all Sunk in the gulph of Madame Pompadour.”
1815, in Houlston’s Juvenile Tracts: “He might go and hang himself for all they cared.”
1878, in Scribner’s Magazine: “The fool has gone and got married.”
If “take” and “go” are redundant in sequences like these, why use them?
Moshe Taube, a linguist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says the “take” usage is common to many languages throughout the world and it’s many centuries old.
He says “take” in this case functions something like a “quasi-auxiliary” verb, and indicates resolve or determination on the part of the subject.
Taube believes he has found the first recorded use of the “take and [verb]” construction in any language. This “turn,” as he calls it, occurs in Hebrew in the writing of a medieval scholar in Provence, Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235).
In a commentary on II Samuel 18.18, Kimhi wrote: “Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself a pillar which is in the King’s Valley, for he said, ‘I have no son to preserve my name.’ So he named the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.”
Taube comments: “This is the first characterization of the turn take and [verb] as indicating resolve. It is perhaps no accident that such an explanation should come from a speaker of Provençal, as this turn is common in most Romance languages.”
From other reading, I gather that the construction exists not only in English, Hebrew, and most Romance languages, but also in Albanian, Greek, Yiddish, Polish, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Russian, as well as in Baltic, Slavic, African, and Caribbean languages.
In his paper, Taube gives many examples from the Yiddish writings of Shalom Aleichem, including these: “he takes and fills my hat to the brim” … “she takes and gives me a speech, a whole lecture” … “a father will take and wreak his anger on his child.”
As Taube writes, some of these sequences, usually “take and [verb]” or “go and [verb],” result in “constructions which, unlike regular coordination, denote not two separate events, but a single event, with the first verb functioning as a ‘quasi-auxiliary.’ “
If you’d like to read about a related usage, I had a blog entry earlier this year about the “try and [verb]” construction.
Thanks for your interesting question, and happy holidays!