Oh No They Don’t

‘Business Insider’, we are told, ‘is a fast-growing business site with deep financial, media, tech, and other industry verticals.’ It may well be that industry verticals are exactly what today’s business person needs to read about, and it may well be that ‘Business Insider’ is unsurpassed in its ability to provide such information. What it doesn’t seem well equipped to do is to provide information about English, at least not in the way in which a certain Christina Sterbenz presents it here. Her article says ‘These 11 examples always come out incorrectly’.  Well, actually, they don’t. Here are the records in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) for 9 of her examples:

1.

for all intensive purposes (3)
for all intents and purposes (259)

2.

nip it in the butt (0)
nip it in the bud (30)

3.

one in the same (46)
one and the same (594)

4.

in accident (28)
by accident (1,531)

5.

case and point (4)
case in point (1,436)

6.

should of (76)
should have (31,750)

could of (176)
could have (43.518)

would of (212)
would have (11.0277)

7.

wreak havoc (425)
wreck havoc (8)

8.

try to (65,498)
try and (6,777)

9.

supposably (4)
supposedly (6,159)

The records for two of Ms Sterbenz’s pairs, it is true, seem at first glance to support her otherwise extremely shaky case. There are 4 records for ‘you’ve got another think coming’ in the COCA and 8 for ‘you’ve got another thing coming’, but the number of example is too small to draw any firm conclusions from them, and this seems in any case to be no more than elision. There are also 88 records for ‘I could care less’, against 83 for ‘I couldn’t care less’. The former seems to have established itself, for whatever reason, as part of informal American speech, and I have already posted about it here.

Ms Sterbenz’s article is typical of the effusions of those who like to claim, as she does, that ‘we’ve totally bastardized parts of the English language’. I’m not even sure what that might mean, but what is certain is that such articles, with no evidence for their assertions, no research and no understanding of how language works, mislead their readers and create a sense of linguistic insecurity among the vulnerable.

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5 Comments

Filed under English Language, Language

5 responses to “Oh No They Don’t

  1. Jonathan

    Oh, for goodness’ sake. She even repeats that nonsense about ‘supposably’ not even being a word. Does she not possess a dictionary?

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  2. I don’t think COCA is too relevant here, as it is mostly edited prose, and these are the kind of malapropisms that are almost always removed by editors. I have seen all of them myself in unedited prose such as emails, though, and while certainly not universal, I have to agree that they are common.

    The only one I would use myself is on accident, which has (at least in some people’s speech, though COCA doesn’t happen to exhibit it) a special nuance: it means that something which purports to be accidental is actually deliberate. This is very common among people under 35, but it’s still too soon to say if it’s a permanent addition to the language, like different than, or something that will remain a feature of youthful speech, with people age-grading out of it as they get older.

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  3. Jeremy Wheeler

    It hardly seems worth adding to the good work you have done, Barrie, but ‘try and’ has been recognised as a variant, in British English at least, ever since Fowler cited it with approval as a useful differentiation of meaning.

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    • Indeed, Jeremy. In ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’, Pam Peters writes that ‘It expresses a supportive attitude, as Fowler (1926) noticed, and has a particular interpersonal role to play, hence its relatively high frequency in conversation.’

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  4. The COCA claims that it ‘is equally divided among spoken, fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, and academic texts.’ I should, I suppose, have searched for all the pairs in the spoken records alone. I have just done so for ‘case and point’ and ‘case in point’, and even there found only 3 instances of the former against 182 of the latter. I have at least done a little more research than Ms Strebenz seems to have done.

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