"among" = between

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Feb 16 02:22:58 UTC 2005

In my whippersnapper days, teachers insisted that "among" be used incertain situations where "between" seemed to come more naturally to many speakers. For example, "A fistfight broke out between the professors" would be correct only if there were two professors involved. For three or more, "among" was the only acceptable word.  The linguistic theory, when one was advanced, was that "'between' comes from 'twain' and 'twain' means 'two.'"

The years lengthen into decades.... Now, perhaps predictably, I find an example of hypercorrectness, "among" used where only "between" should be acceptable. Indeed, to me, "between" is the only natural choice.

OED does not comment on the issue under the relevant sense of "among", "9. Of the relation of reciprocal action between [sic] the members of a group."

2003 Dale Van Blair Looking Back: A Tail Gunner's View of World War II  59 :  We were a very compatible group and I was never aware of a disagreement among any two of us.

I certainly can't recall ever noticing this usage in freshman writing. ( In the freshman writing I am familiar with, obvious hypercorrections are rare indeed.)

Besides having flown eighteen combat missions in B-24 aircraft during World War II, Dale Van Blair author is a retired high-school English teacher.


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