All I Know

A Whole Nother Diversion

I’ve had a great time virtually hanging out with linguists lately [1].  One clear truth that emerges pretty quickly — I guess I had latent knowledge of this dynamic but no sense of the degree– is that language and usage is evolving constantly and rapidly.

‘A Whole Nother’ is a pet idiom of mine.  I don’t use it much myself but am amused by it because it is so plainly wrong and yet so entrenched in our parlance.  People that should know better use it all the time.  I thought it was Southern, because we have so many speech peculiarities, but I think this notion might be misguided in this particular case.

Plainly ‘another’ has been split and an intensifier has been inserted in a way that is easy to speak.  What’s cool, as this article shows, is that this rebracketing of ‘an other’ to ‘a nother’ has some charming precedents already.  Our word ‘nickname’ came from ‘an ekename’, where the latter is an Early Modern English word for little name [2].  Working the rebracketing the other way, the adder snake started out as ‘a nadder’.  There are others, like our ‘orange’, in which the very same rebracketing occurred in French before we borrowed the revised word; and ‘alligator’, employing a not-quite-the-same-but-still-charming mechanism near Spanish.

But that was all a long time ago .

One thing that is buzzing just now is ‘because [x]’, as in, “I was late because traffic.”  Lots of folks are talking about ‘because [noun]’, but as The Atlantic states in their work-up, it’s a lot broader than that:  “I can’t talk now because cooking!” [3].

Which is all great fun, and/but returns us to the opening point:  English is changing, and as a corollary,  those security blanket-esque grammar rules of yours, I mean ours, that we like to use to beat down lesser intellects (because it feels so good) are probably out of date, including a favorite at our house: less vs. fewer.  You can read about it here, where it’s all stated with a lot more pinache and nuance.

Gotta go, because Thanksgiving.


[1] And you can, too:  I suggest following the Language list of Stan Carey for starters.

[2]  I think it’s Early Middle English.  I studied the topic for about 3 minutes here.

[3] The Atlantic, based on this source article.  Stan Carey again.

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