Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Ngram view of "another think/thing"

Mark Liberman has courageously returned to the nor'easter-northeaster debate, though he admits its futility: more evidence is needed, and in any case, "people are entitled to use phony dialect forms if they want." (He cites, among other evidence, some research I did on the topic in 2003, now behind a Globe paywall and outdated in any case.) I hoped he came bearing fresh results from Google's new book search toy, the Ngram Viewer, but it won't let us compare the histories of the two versions -- apparently it can't handle the internal apostrophe in nor'easter (though there are hits for noreaster).

I've been trying out the the Ngram Viewer, too, and it's easy to see its limitations. As Geoff Nunberg and other early commenters have said, it's a pretty blunt instrument, unable to handle many of the search refinements you'd need for real scholarship. But I'm having fun seeing what it says about various competing usages (not hindered by internal punctuation) that I've written about before.

For example, here's the graph for "another think coming" vs. "another thing coming," as in, "if you think you're wearing that, you've got another think coming":


Pretty scary for a traditionalist like me to see the rogue "another thing" rocketing toward respectability! But I was heartened to see that the OED entry has it as "another think," with the "thing" version labeled "arising from misapprehension of to have another think coming." Not that it will affect usage, but someday I can show it to my disbelieving grandchildren ...

11 comments:

Ø said...

I have personal experience of that misapprehension. I first -- maybe only ever -- heard that expression from my father*, and I swear I had been hearing it occasionally for years before it dawned on me that he was saying "think" and not "thing".

* an unusually careful speaker, I would have said

John Lawler said...

I grew up with it, too, and as far as I know, nobody I ever heard it from (which was a lot of people) ever pronounced it as think, nor did anyone ever correct me when I said thing.
The fact that the /k/ at the end of /θɪŋk/ is completely assimilated to the /k/ at the beginning of /kəmɪŋ/ means it's impossible to hear the difference, unless one is exceptionally clear in pronunciation, which is unlikely in such a locution.
I didn't encounter think until I read it, much later in life. And I didn't believe it then, either; it still sounds weird to me. Think is not a quantifiable noun in my idiolect.

Electric Blue said...

I can't believe that I have been saying this wrong all these years. That's what I get for listening to Judas Priest.

nuclearheadache said...

I always thought it was "another thing coming." I guess that makes me a heathen, or maybe just a fan of the Judas Priest song.

Jan said...

John Lawler is right, of course that even a "careful speaker" says "think coming" like "thing coming"; I don't know if it was carefully enunciated when I learned it, or if I learned it from a book. But since I've always known it as "another think," it's hard for me to understand the alternative; I always wonder, what did the "another thing" people think the phrase meant? But of course, the answer is that we all say things that make "no sense" from morning till night.

Ø said...

Jan,

I'm not getting the same results from Google ngram. What are you putting in, exactly? If I do "another ---- coming" I get larger numbers and a greater disparity between think and thing. If I do "got another ---- coming" I get same order of magnitude as you but again greater disparity.

Jan said...

Ø , I used "another think/thing coming" as the graph shows, but note that I started at 1860 or so (instead of the 1800 default). Not much happening before that, and it shows up better this way. Also, I don't remember if smoothing was 2 or 3 (or something else?)... you might change that value and see what happens.

Ø said...

My problem was at the other end: I hadn't noticed that the default setting stops at 2000. The big surge came after 2000.

Jan said...

Right, I forgot I had even changed that: I used 2008 as the endpoint, the latest it will let you use, apparently.

John Cowan said...

I think the chart is seriously misleading: many of the hits for another thing coming are most likely false positives. Graphing got another think/thing coming shows think still three times as common.

I'm a think-speaker myself, but I don't say think coming and thing coming the same; there is a difference of what used to be called juncture. Think has a nasalized i cut off short, whereas thing has little nasalization on the vowel and a comparatively prolonged enunciation of the nasal consonant.

Jan said...

John Cowan: Even if the "another thing" hits include false positives (as they do), the overall number rises sharply; why assume the false positives account for all the increase?

I just ran a Nexis search of the NYT for a small-scale reality check; it had the relevant sense of "another thing coming" 17 times starting in 1986. "Another think coming" had 24 hits starting in 1986, and a total of 35 going back to 1981. Starting with 2000, it's 10 for "thing" vs. 9 for "think." FWIW ...