Another think, again

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri May 23 13:37:18 UTC 2008

On Fri, May 23, 2008 at 8:08 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> At 5/23/2008 07:32 AM, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>>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.
> Shouldn't this be excluded as the earliest, since "another thing
> coming" parallels the earlier "satisfied with the existing order of *things*"?

Interesting, I hadn't considered possible influence from the word
"things" in the previous sentence. That could play a factor, but
methinks it's still the "think" frame, if rather obscured by ellipsis:

  If we should try and think up some one person...
  But if we did [try and think up...] then we have another thing coming.

The 1919 example ("If you think the life of a movie star is all
sunshine and flowers you've got another thing coming") is more
explicit in its framing. But note that the early "another think" exx
aren't rigidly formulaic either:

The 1897 Washington Post example uses "Another 'think' coming to them"
as a headline, with the framing occurring in the body of the article
("Methodist conference members from throughout the country think...").
And the 1898 Chicago Tribune example puts the frame in a separate
sentence rather than a conditional clause ("Chicago thinks it wants a
new charter. Chicago has another think coming").

So I don't think we're necessarily dealing with a fixed proverb/saying
but rather a loose template (snowclone?) that was sometimes phrased
rather allusively. Or perhaps the fixity of the paradigmatic "If you
think that X,  you've got another think coming" was in flux early on,
which could have allowed for the "thing" reanalysis at a very early

I also wonder if the "thing" usage in some of the early examples could
have been a miscorrection, imposed by editors who were unfamiliar with
the "another think" turn of phrase.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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