thing/think: The final chapter (poll results)*Long*

Subject: thing/think: The final chapter (poll results)*Long*
From: LaVonna Funkhouser <lffunkhouser -at- HALNET -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 1994 19:32:46 -0600

Lederer and Webster's and "another thing/k coming"; poll

This message is the culmination of the "has another thing/think coming"
controversy, which was discussed on this list about one month ago.

Before I post the results of the techwr-l poll, I am including copies of
replies that I received to letters that I wrote: one to Richard Lederer,
language columnist and author of several books on English language
humor, and the other to the editors at Merriam-Webster. (Lederer
publishes his address in his books, and M-W invites owners of its
dictionaries to write with questions about word origins and use, so
I am not giving out private addresses.)

Both replies came quickly, for which I am grateful.

First Lederer, who uses an example that you might recognize from
a linguistics or history of English class:
Society for the Preservaton of English Language and Literature


vice president
5 Merrimack Street
Concord, NH 03301

February 14, 1994

Dear LaVonna Funkhouser:

Wow! I've learned something new. Everyone I know
says, "If . . ., you have another thing coming," but my research
supports your claim that the expression began life as ". . . another
think coming." This kind of transformation is known as metathesis:
an ambiguous sound changes to something more familiar, as in
"a norange["] becomes "an orange." Here "think coming" transmorgrifies
into "thing coming."

Sorry I can't respond by Internet; I'm on CompuServe.
Since you're a fan (for which I am grateful), I enclose an info
sheet about my work and works.

All Best,
Richard Lederer

If you have questions about Lederer's biography or his works, I can
provide info from his info sheet. --LF

Next the M-W letter, which starts with a disclaimer. In this retype,
italics are indicated with _underscores_, and bold is indicated with

Merriam-Webster Inc.
47 Federal Street
PO Box 281
Springfield, MA 01102

Dear Ms. Funkhouser:

It's hard to pinpoint the origin of an expression like "you've got
another think/thing coming" because such expressions are generally in
use long before they are recorded on the printed page. Since we work
with citations taken mostly from printed material, answering questions
such as your involves some deduction based on our experience with the language.

"You've got another think coming" is almost certainly the original
wording. The noun _think_ is a much better fit semantically (and aesthetically)
than _thing_. The _Oxford English Dictionary_ gives 1937 as the first
appearance of this expression in print, but gives no mention of _thing_
being similarly used. Also, our citational evidence highly favors "you've got
another think coming" (which, by the way, is why you'll find the expression
at *think*, not *thing* in _Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary_.)

"You've got another think coming" probably originated in speech
with the reanalysis of the _k_ in _think_ as being the _c_ in _coming_,
which leaves something that sounds suspiciously like "thing coming"
("think oming" not usually being an option in English). Since _thing_ is a
much more familiar noun than _think_, it's easy to see how _think_
became _thing_ in some people's speech.

You don't say which side you're on, but you might be interested
to know that in an informal poll I conducted of my fellow editors, 60%
favored "you've got another thing coming," while 40% claimed "you've
got another think coming." Apparently we have another you-say-tomayto-
and-I-say-tomahto situation on our hands.

Jennifer B. Tufts
Jennifer didn't really tell us anything that we didn't already know, but it is
still an interesting letter. Can you picture it? Jennifer chats with her M-W
coworkers, asking each, "How would you finish this phrase?"

To be honest, how many of you conducted informal polls?

An informal poll of some of my coworkers (but excluding me) revealed this:
thing -- (2/6) 40% (Both from OK; both 25 or younger, but
only one listens to Judas Priest.)
think -- (3/6) 50% (All from OK. All three have heard "thing"; one
admitted that she used to think that "thing"
was correct.
Patti, the one who admitted changing, also thought that
Judas Priest was singing "think."
Age range 28 to 40-something.
thought -- (1/6) 10% (see next paragraph)

The "thought" response was interesting. Only two persons of
whom I've asked this question said "thought": Al, who is
from Ohio, and my mother-in-law, who is from Indiana.
Both Al and my mother-in-law are in the 50+ category, so I
don't know whether to attribute this to age or region.

And now what you've all been waiting for
(drumroll, please): the results of the
Techwr-L (and other e-mail respondees)
"has another thing/think coming" poll.

Most of you said, "Please let me know how
this turns out." Well, you asked for it...

(drumroll, please)

82 total responses

48/82 (58.5%) voted for "thing"
34/82 (41.5%) voted for "think"

Our results were very similar to the Webster's editors!

Of the "thing" folks, 21% (10/48) had heard it the other way.
Of the "think" folks, 21% (7/34) had heard it the other way.
The majority of all the respondents had not heard it the other way,
*at least not that we were aware of*!

I stated in my questionnaire that my theory was a
regional difference. Others theorized about an age
difference. Still others suggest an association with the
Judas Priest song, "Another Thing Coming."

I used the STC geographic regional designations (although
they are not perfect). (See an STC membership directory or
send me a message for the break down.) A wide variety of regions were
represented in both camps. Here are the only trends:

Thing camp:
31% of the regions given (many people have lived in more than one) in the
think camp were Region 5.
Regions 1,2,4,6, and 8 fairly evenly share the rest.

Regions 3 and 7 were noticeably underrepresented in both camps.

Think camp:
23% of the regions mentioned by "thinkers" was Region 1. They also had
a large representation from Region 4 (18%). Most notable is that the
thinkers had 4/5 of those with a UK influence, 3/5 of the Canadians
(sorry, Ken), and the lone Australian.

I think that "think" as a noun must have been somewhat common in Scots English
at one time. Chuck Campbell posted this quote:

"A thing must be a think before it be a thing."--G. MacDonal,
_Home Again IV_, 1887

I asked Graham Stephenson (a "Scot living in Wales")
if think as a noun was common usage. His first reply
was "No, it isn't," but later he posted this to me:

"I was fogetting about another phrase that is used all the time:
to have a think about something
which means to consider something. There is also "to
have a rethink," i.e., to reconsider.

I also looked in my trusty Collins English Dictionary:

'think n. informal. a careful, open-minded assessment: let's have a
fresh think aobut this problem.' "

Age (not part of my original poll):
There were no clear age trends. 11 of the 48 thingers gave an age,
and the ages ranged evenly from 23 to 45.

6 of the 34 thinkers gave ages ranging from 25 to 40-ish.

Judas Priest:
Someone suggested that the thingers might have been influenced by
the Judas Priest song. Only 5 of the 48 thingers mentioned being JP fans.

What can we conclude?
1. The original word is think.
2. Those who think it is "thing" are now in a slight majority, however.
3. The think crowd is strongest in the UK and the eastern US, but
there were no strong regional trends.
4. There were no age trends.
5. Judas Priest does not greatly influence our speech.
6. The think-->thing shift may have been caused by people reasoning
that "thing" is a more common noun.
Most importantly:
7. "Thing coming" and "think coming" sound so much alike that we
don't realize the other phrase being used unless it is in print, it is said very
distinctively, or someone starts a deliberate conversation just about this
8. We can't take communication for granted, can we?

Whew! I feel like I just wrote a research paper! I hope you enjoyed it!
8-p This wore me out.

If you wish to have more info or use my findings, please let me know and
give me proper credit.

Thanks for your participation in my poll.

BTW, I don't think I will be contacting any other columnists, but if you do,
let me know what they say.

That'll teach me for sending out a questionnaire, :-)
LaVonna Funkhouser
lffunkhouser -at- halnet -dot- com

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