Posted by Jay Livingston
An article about a bread recipe in the Times today (here) has this sentence:
This recipe runs 38 pages in the cookbook “Tartine Bread”; when I began to I began to streamline it into the version you see here, I reached out to Mr. Robertson.What struck me wasn’t the 38 pages. (“Making the dough is also a two-day process. Resist the temptation to rush any of the steps” – assured me that I would definitely not be making this bread.) It was “reached out.”
We don’t call people, we don’t write to them, we don’t try to get in touch with them. We reach out. I get memos from the university urging me to reach out to students who are not doing well. In response to a question about hiring, the dean tells me to reach out to someone in HR. New Jersey has a Reach Out and Read program.
To find other examples I reached out to Lexis-Nexis, limiting my search to today. The Washington Times says the DoD “has come a long way to reach out to suffering soldiers.” This Times story has the subhead “New York Police Reach Out on Twitter but Receive a Slap in the Face.” WaPo, writing about the choice of people to throw out the first ball at yesterday’s RedSox - Yankees game says, “we hope they didn't reach out to fellow Cabinet member John Kerry,” who threw one in the dirt back in 2004.
Newsday has a picture from the same game
Others might not notice, but to my aged ears, all this reaching out sounds strange. And in fact, “reach out” is fairly recent.
How did speakers of English try to communicate with others for those centuries before 1960? “Reach out” does not appear at all in Shakespeare (1564-1616, Happy Birthday, Will). Nor, I would guess, in Nabokov (1899-1977, Happy Birthday, Volodya)
What happened in the sixties that started us reaching out so much? Was it the general touchy-feely sensibility? (AT&T urged us to “Reach out and touch someone” by running up our long-distance charges,* but that ad campaign didn’t begin till 1979.) I look at that curve with its turning point in 1966, and until a better explanation comes along, I go with the Four Tops.
* Long distance is now a dim artifact now considered immoral. In this “Kids React to Technlogy” video , when the unseen adult explains about long distance charges, one kid says, “They shouldn’t do that.” Only one of the kids guesses what long distance was. On the other hand, the dial tone and busy signal are a complete mystery.
** At Seder last week, a ninth grade girl received as a gift a YA book with the title, “I’ll Be There.” The sederians of an older generation on seeing this were moved to a brief unison rendition of what we could remember of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).” (We didn’t do very well on “Dayenu” either.) Even at that, we got it wrong. It turns out that the book title referred to a different Motown song, the one by Michael Jackson.