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TWTS: Take a listen as we discuss "take a listen"

When someone asks you to “take a listen,” it’s usually meant as a friendly invitation. But not everyone wants to take a listen.

Several listeners have asked us about this phrase, including one who wanted to know whether it’s grammatically correct.

We’re guessing it’s the use of “listen” as a noun that grates on some people’s nerves. This usage isn’t new. It goes back to the 1700s, with expressions like “to be on the listen.”

However, even though the use of “listen” as a verb is so old, “take a listen” didn’t start its dramatic increase until the 1970s.

In a 2016 Washington Post article, Valerie Strauss wrote, “If you listen to the news, pretty much any channel, it’s likely that it won’t take more than a few minutes for you to hear someone say ‘take a listen.’”

When a phrase is on the rise, of course we start noticing it. When we start noticing it, almost inevitably, we start using it too. So it’s no wonder “take a listen” suddenly seems like it’s everywhere.

Consider the alternatives though. You could just say “listen,” but that sounds so abrupt. “Take a listen” sounds less abrupt, and it’s also efficient.

By the way, Professor Anne Curzan got some exciting news last week. Take a listen to the audio above to hear about it.

And don’t worry, That’s What They Say is here to stay!

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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