on accident

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Fri Jan 14 16:03:39 UTC 2000

I haven't heard this one, but I heard something else new (to me) the other
night, on "Law and Order" (which I watched for the first time and just "on
accident"):  A young girl accused of murder said of her victim, "He just
went dead"--as if on accident.  I'm reminded of the old "He up and died,"
also as if accidentally.  Is "went dead" familiar to others?

At 10:35 AM 1/14/00 -0500, you wrote:
>This morning an AP story on the Simpsons, reprinted in our student
newspaper, contained the following description of Maggie Simpson:
"Perpetual infant best known for shooting Monty Burns, on accident."
>I had first heard the phrase "on accident" in the early '80s from my son,
then 12 or so.  It struck me then as formed on the analogy of "on purpose",
(although why that wouldn't have change to "by purpose" on analogy to "by
accident" I can't imagine).  Today was the first time I'd seen it in print,
and the timing was perfect since I was talking to my HEL class today about
analogic change.  The students in the class are all Midwestern, white, and
in their early twenties.  I asked how many would normally say "on accident"
and nearly every hand went up,  About 3/4 of them said they would never say
"by accident" and some weren't even familiar with it.  The Merriam-Webster
Dictionary of English Usage (1989) has entries for "accidentally" and "on"
but not "on accident."  I've just done a search of the ADS-L archives for
the phrase and didn't come up with anything.
>On the basis of my limited experience, then, I'd guess that the change
started in the Midwest (we moved to Indiana from Atlanta in 1980 and my
children didn't say "on accident" before that) in the late 70s to early 80s
and has pretty much taken over in this population.
>Does anyone know of other references to the phrase, its sources and its
>Herb Stahlke

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