"thing/think" [was: on the eggcorn beat]

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Apr 30 21:21:13 UTC 2008

On Wed, Apr 30, 2008 at 4:55 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky
<zwicky at csli.stanford.edu> wrote:
>  On Apr 30, 2008, at 12:19 PM, Joel Berson (noting a difference in
> judgments between jon lighter and benjamin barrett) wrote:
>  > Do I hear two generational divides within one lifetime?
>  there might be some association between age and choice of variant, but
>  i'd expect it to be weak.  there's probably some large-scale
>  geographical variation (between, say, American, British, and
>  Australian English) in the frequency of use for the two variants.  i'd
>  expect most other sociolinguistic factors to play a very weak role.
>  i make these predictions because i suspect think/thing is an "ice
>  plant variable", spreading primarily according to which variant you
>  happen to have noticed first.  whether you have "ice plant" as a count
>  noun or a mass noun (assuming you have it at all) probably depends on
>  which variant you encountered first.  so the spread of the two
>  variants has a significant amount of randomness in it.  there will
>  probably be a tendency for families to make clusters, but the items in
>  question are infrequent enough that it's unlikely the variants will
>  get associated with socially relevant factors.
>  but i could be wrong.

The alt.usage.english newsgroup actually surveyed its participants on
"think"/"thing" back in 1999. Here are the results:


Even in this small sample size the generational divide is fairly
strong. Also, "thing" is generally stronger in the US than in the UK
(Judas Priest notwithstanding).

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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