Another think, again

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri May 23 11:32:33 UTC 2008

On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 6:25 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 2:19 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
> > Just to clarify, for anyone who hasn't been following the ongoing
> > discussion of antedatings and such, all evidence points to "another
> > think" as the original form, with "another thing" a later reanalysis.
> > Earliest citations thus far are 1897 for "another think" and 1904 for
> > "another thing", so the reanalysis happened pretty quickly. It's
> > comparable to other swiftly developing eggcorns like "home in on"
> > (1944) > "hone in on" (1965).
> Are "date of origin" and "date of earliest-known citation" necessarily
> coincidental?

Surely not, but we can make conjectures about approximate dates of
origin and early dissemination of variants based on the documentary
evidence at hand. And the vast majority of the early cites we've found
so far from the turn of the 20th century onwards have "another think
coming", with "another thing coming" a sporadic (though increasingly
frequent) variant.

> Is it really the case that
> "If you think that, then you have another think coming"
> whose earliest-known citation dates from 1897, was reanalysed as
> "If you thing that, then you have another thing coming"
> by 1904, a mere seven years later?

Well, I don't believe anyone's found an example of "If you
*thing*..."! But if you mean that the "If you think..." frame was
still maintained in the early "another thing" exx, then yes, this is
essentially true, though the frame didn't seem to have a fixed wording
(beyond an introductory clause, usually conditional, with "think").
Here are the earliest citations we have so far:

1904 _Wilshire's Magazine_ (Feb.) in _Wilshire Editorials_ (1906) 214
Now if we should try and think up some one person who is satisfied
with the existing order of things and upon whose lips is the cry: "Let
well enough alone, Stand pat," we would most likely have thought that
we should find him in the editor of the Wall Street Journal. But if we
did, then we have another thing coming, for this is the cry-baby talk
I find in this morning's (Dec. 16) editorial.
1919 _Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald_ 12 Aug. 8/3 If you think the life of a
movie star is all sunshine and flowers you've got another thing

Compare these to the early "another think" exx from 1897-98:

> Or is it the case that "another think" dates from 1897 and its
> reanalysis as "another thing" dates from 1904?
> Judas Priest's 1982 side, _You've Got Another Thing Comin' / Coming_
> reads, e.g.:
> "If you think I'll sit around as the world goes by,
> "You're thinking like a fool, cause it's a case of do or die.
> "Out there is a fortune waiting to be had.
> "If you think I'll let it go, you're mad.
> "You've got another _thing_ comin(g)."
> Though this is far later than 1904, clearly, there's no obvious
> coincidence between this string of phrases followed by
> "You've got another thing comin(g)"
> and the saying,
> "If you think that, then you have another think coming"

Sorry, Wilson, I don't quite get your point here. Wouldn't the Judas
Priest lyrics suggest that the "If you think..." frame continued to
linger even among some "another thing" users? As with the early
examples, the "think" frame didn't have a fixed wording, but it's
still lurking there as an introductory formula.

> Judging by what's on this site:
> a lot of those who say, "you have / you've got another thing comin(g)
> don't necessarily have any knowledge of the existence of the
> introductory phrase,
> "If you think that, then ..."
> The phrase, "You have / you've got another thing comin(g)," like the
> cheese, stands alone.

Sure, but I don't see this as a contradiction of what I said above.
Once "another thing coming" became established as a variant, it could
exist beyond the original "If you think..." frame, since (for many
speakers) it was no longer necessary to maintain the "think...think"
parallelism. I grew up with "another thing" and was unaware of the
original frame too, but the citations that have been collected make
the case for its historical priority.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list