Usage and Grammar

Q. Do you have a problem (as I do) with the phrase “the fact that,” and if so, what alternatives do you offer?

A. In spite of its banishment from style guides (probably thanks to Messrs. Strunk and White), the phrase sometimes has useful meaning. Where it’s redundant or overused, it should be edited out, but if it’s doing honest work, there’s no reason to be offended by it. Arthur Plotnik quotes the following from Don DeLillo’s Underworld: “Sister Grace believed the proof of God’s creativity eddied from the fact that you could not surmise the life, even remotely, of his humblest shut-in.” I wouldn’t mess with that, would you?