People have made fun of Marco Rubio’s robotic repetition of the talking point “Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing; he knows exactly what he’s doing” in the debate the other night.
But I don’t believe people have made enough fun of the fact that his robotic repetition was ungrammatical. He’s gone to all this trouble of memorizing some sound byte that his advisers think is clever and persuasive, but the sound byte is non-standard English. Here is what a writer in Slate has to say:
As [Dave] Weigel notes, dispel with isn’t really a thing. You can dispel something, sure. (Rubio did little to dispel concerns that he’s not fit for the White House, for example.) But if you want to use with after a verb, then dispense is more appropriate.
A quick Google search illustrates the uniqueness of Rubio’s word choice. A search for “dispel with” that’s restricted to results prior to Saturday night’s debate shows mostly mentions about video games. It seems Dispel is a spell in Final Fantasy. And you can apparently use Dispel with all kinds of things, including the Holy Torch. That’s probably not what Rubio had in mind.
Language Log points out just how weird this construction is:
My first reaction was that this was a malapropism, “dispel with” substituted for “dispense with”.
But this tends to counter the “scripted” meme, since presumably the Rubio campaign can afford to hire writers with a good grasp of English subcategorization conventions. So I wondered whether it might just be a usage that I’ve missed, rather than a case of bad scriptwriting or imperfect script-remembering.
However, “[dispel]with” in the relevant sense doesn’t occur in the 520 million words of the BYU Corpus of Contemporary American English, although forms ofdispel occur 1,585 times. There are five examples of passive-voice dispelledwhere a following with-clause has an instrumental interpretation, e.g. “If they had had any doubt that the concept would work, it was dispelled with the very first test photo.”
I suppose the Republican candidates for president provide us with much more serious things to worry about. But this is just irritating.