Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm Curious About "curious to know"

A few hours ago I posted a link on the Wall of a FaceBook friend which read, in part, "I'm curious to know how you feel about this..."  Shortly thereafter I added this comment: "Actually, I am both curious and want to know...I hereby retract curious to know...".  My reason wasn't because I thought it was ungrammatical to say "curious to know" but because I have a certain sense of trying to maintain a particular written style online and I felt that "curious to know" failed to conform to that style.  I have nothing against Stetson's but I really prefer not to be seen in one.

This reaction was, of course, pretty much intuitive (even visceral).  It occurred to me that my use of "to know" in the phrase had seemed, somehow, like a verbal tic on my part -- that it didn't really convey any necessary or useful information.  Let me reiterate:  there is nothing inherently wrong about including words which don't convey useful information -- they can be decorative or simply stylistically appropriate.  It just didn't feel like me.

This raised the question:  Just why did I not like using the phrase?  Turning to Google I found that searching for the phrase (in quotation marks) yielded no fewer than 110 million hits .  On page 58 of the results I was told that Google had "omitted some entries very similar to the 573 already displayed".  Since, as far as I could see, the first 573 results used the term in exactly the manner I expected I declined their offer to take the search further.  Instead I searched for any instance of anyone complaining about the phrase "curious to know", searching for it in conjunction with such terms as "bad grammar", "bad English", "grammatical", "improper", etc.  I could find no complaints about it.  So I turned to Merriam-Webster's online, whose second definition of "curious" is:
2 a : marked by desire to investigate and learn  b : marked by inquisitive interest in others' concerns 

it later notes, in its synonym section:
curious, a neutral term, basically connotes an active desire to learn or to know 

So, okay, Webster's confirms my feeling that "to know" is somewhat redundant and explains my gut instinct that to use it was to be unnecessarily verbose.

Another question emerges for me, however.  In a networked world, where anyone feels free to comment on the writing of just about anyone else, why has "curious to know" NOT emerged as a grammatical faux pas (or, at least, annoyance)?  If there is any consistency to the rampant grammatical peevology abroad in the universe shouldn't it have found its way into some cross-hairs by now?

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