Sunday, 26 October 2014

Fings ain't what vay used to fink

David Cameron, doing a Khruschev, but in Brussels (and not doing the full discalced version – he kept his shoes on, though he prodded the lectern with a comparable mixture of stage anger and impotent bluster) was reported as saying people who thought he'd pay his dues 'had got another thing coming' (that  link is to just one report, but I haven't seen  a 'think' version in any other report). I thought I'd never heard this mangling before, but I obviously had, as Google reports that it's almost 50 times as common as the original: thinK – just over 100,000 hits, but thinG – well over 5,000,000. What had spared me from an awareness of this lapse was what phonologists call assimilation (I've mentioned this before, here). In brief, /g/ and /k/ are articulated with the tongue and the teeth in the same relative positions, but /k/ is not voiced. The voiced /ŋ/ at the end of 'thing' assimilates to the unvoiced /k/ in 'coming', and my sensitivity to this vulgarism (I'm ducking and covering as I write this) is spared.

Interesting, but...*

A similar thing happens ( but without assimilation) with 'scoring off his own bat', which notches up only 45,000-odd Google hits, as against nearly 300,000,000 for the meaningless 'off his own  back'.
<digression theme= "that is to say...">
...well, not assimilatiom to another phoneme. I think it was John Trim (mentioned elsewhere in this blog: let the word-cloud do its thing if you're interested)  who pointed out that a speaker's  simply closing his/her mouth at the end of an utterance could make a final consonant 'assimilate' to the appropriate bilabial phoneme, so that both 'off his own bat', and 'off his own back' might sometimes sound as though the speaker  were saying 'off his own bap' (which would be no less meaningless than 'off his own back'.)
A cricketer scores 'off his own bat' when he hits a scoring ball –  it is not an 'extra' (added to his score in various circumstances). The expression can also be used when a tail-ender, while scoring very few 'off his own bat', plays a crucial role by supporting a batsman in a valuable partnership.

But I've heard people who should know better (regular club cricketers) say 'off his own back'. Perhaps that seemingly fanciful 'off his own bap' sound really is relevant: people hear 'bap' and supply a noun that suggests effort and support...?

Yet another such cuckoo-like displacement has happened – but with more reason – to the archaic 'for aught I know', which racks up less than 3,000,000 Google hits as against 'for all I know's nearly 90,000,000. But in this instance the change has unarguably happened. What's more, the all version makes sense.
I mentioned this before, in a note in When Vowels Get Together V5.2, referring to

(... the less common words aught and fraught – not included in the main /ɔ:/ section, as even the most advanced student is unlikely to need these. They might very occasionally meet them, but chiefly in the idioms 'for aught I know' and 'fraught with difficulty/problems/danger...'. Even then, in the first of these the archaic 'aught' – meaning 'anything' – is often replaced by 'all'; the British National Corpus lists 55 instances of  'for all I know', but only 2 for the earlier form.)
<digression theme="Word and Yosser Hughes">
In fact the words 'not included in the main /ɔ:/ section' are wrong there. I need to fix it. But good old reliable WinWord has prevented me from making a quick fix. The sources are in .epub format, and Sigil (the tool that I use to edit them)  is not installed at the moment. What seems to have happened is that WinWord has taken advantage of Sigil's absence, shouldered its way to the front (of  the metaphorical crowd of onlookers scratching their heads at the sight of this exotic filetype) and said 'Ah, .epub, I can  handle that. Just leave it to me.' And messed it up royally. I shall have to restore from backup.
Here though, shunning Google, I used the much smaller but in some ways more authoritative corpus BNC. Google is hugely bigger, but has no quality control and very low criteria for inclusion; sometimes garbage in leads to garbage out.

Time to go.


A pretty obscure one, this. This should put you on the right track.

Update 2014.10.27.09:50  –  Added PS
Do I have to add a rider about 'mistakes'? Here is one one of the many accounts I have given of how language develops by the anointing of what was originally a mistake. It's just that I'm not going to reach for the ointment [to do the anointing] before anyone else.

Update 2014.10.28.10:05   –  Added PPS (tweaked in further update, 2014.10.29.16:00)

* Some of you may have noticed that this analysis slides uneasily between /g/ and /ŋ/, and doesn't work unless the speaker comes from Bradford and says /θɪŋg/. There is an issue here that people who didn't learn English as a Foreign Language are unlikely to have noticed. For a German student once (she was bothered by her jung/junger as compared with our 'young/younger') I compiled a list (by no means complete) of '-nge' spellings. I'm thinking about  this, but time doesn't allow at the moment. Here, to be going on with. is that list (the first hanger  looks like a typo. but life's too short...):




 [bang =>] banger

[bring =>] bringer

[clang =>] clanger

conger (eel)




[hang =>] hanger



…but] longer

mange (connected with…

…) manger (…but very remotely)

[plunge =>] plunger

[range =>] ranger
[sing =>] singer

[sling =>] slinger
(rarely used on its own, but in various composite words. e.g. “mud-slinger”, “gun-slinger”)

[strange =>] stranger


[wing =>] winger

…but] younger

Update 2015.09.25.11:05   –  Added PPPS

PPPS As this issue has been resurrected at the UsingEnglish forum, I've had another – possibly relevant  – thought: think is rarely (if ever [ignoring the expression have a think]) a countable noun. Hearing 'another think coming' the temptation is to parse the object as a countable noun – which makes thing a good candidate.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  over 47,100 views  and wellover 6,300 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,350 views and 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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