Friday, October 07, 2011


Of Thinks to Come

A phrase quoted on a blog today got me wondering whether one of my longstanding beliefs about a phrase and its semantics might be incorrect.
The phrase quoted on The Dish began
"[A]nyone who thinks Gov. Palin or any of us 'cultists' are going to go away has another thing coming ...

Now, I believe that it should have ended "has another think coming." The idea being, semantically speaking, someone who has arrived at a particular conclusion hasn't thought carefully enough or thoroughly enough -- because their conclusion is wrong -- and needs to think some more to get it right.

I call to witness the ngram application from Googlelabs. This is a fabulous indexing tool for tracking frequencies of words and sequences of words as they have occurred in corpus digitized in the Google Books database. The graphical application provided on their website imposes a few constraints, such as being case-sensitive and not allowing wildcard characters to try to ignore spelling variations. However, for this question, neither of those seems to be problematic; these phrases don't often occur at the beginning of a sentence, so case, shouldn't matter, and it is the minor spelling distinction which is particularly of interest.

The findings (click link above to see for yourself) are that:
  1. the popularity (and ascension) of another think coming came well before the emergence of another thing coming, but only began about 1900.
  2. "another thing..." showed up in a few early hiccups, but really only began its rise to popularity around 1980.
  3. quite curiously, the rise of thing does not appear to have been to the detriment of think, as both rose during the 1995-2005 decade when thing quadrupled and reached three-quarters the popularity of think.

Reading some of the texts from 1900-1928, the semantics clearly agree with what I believed them to be. An example, from 1927:
Just put this thought in your mind and keep it there : You folks who refrain from being represented may think you are active members of our International Union, but you have another think coming, for you are not what you think you are. ...

On the other hand, I'm not sure I understand the semantics of another thing coming. I browsed some of the citations from 2008, many of which showed signs of poor writing ("she started eating with out him", e.g.) and general ignorance. One that caught my fancy was from "Warkin" by Geddy Gibson:

“If Shelly thinks she‟s gonna come in here and start throwing her weight around, she‟s got another thing coming.” Another THINK coming, you moron. “Gotcha,” I replied. I zipped into the office. I thought about Shelly as I prepared the ...

Having another thing coming seems so much more ominous, even threatening: more or less dangerous than a think to expect? Just what are the semantics of this newcomer?

I guess I'll thing about it (and maybe I just have!).

Tags: : American, language, usages, semantics

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