themselfs / themselve

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri May 1 17:28:38 UTC 2009

On Apr 30, 2009, at 3:58 PM, Mark Mandel wrote:

> On Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 7:34 AM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at>
> wrote:
>> at first i thought it was just a typo.  but it's easy to google up
>> more, many more, e.g.:
> I don't follow the logic here. If one author uses an unusual form or
> spelling consistently, it's certainly intentional; maybe an
> idiosyncrasy or
> a variation, but certainly not a typo (slip between mind and pen/
> keyboard,
> or perhaps more generally misspelling). But you seem to be saying
> that if we
> find many independent occurrences of such a form, from many separate
> authors, then it is not a typo, even if there's no evidence that any
> of them
> use it consistently or even more than once. Do I read you right?

i've posted about reactions like this, under the heading of
"grammatical egocentrism":
(here, the assumption that if some expression would be an error for
*you*, it's an error for everyone).

we use the reasoning i used above frequently here on ADS-L (and it's
used by lexicographers all the time): if an expression occurs a lot,
and there's no clear reason to label it as some type of error in all
of these occurrences, then we assume that at least some of the
occurrences are intentional -- variants rather than inadvertent
errors, even if we don't recall ever having experienced the expression
before.  (the posting linked to above is #5 in a series entitled "the
thin line between variation and mere error".)

it's not necessary that some person use the expression consistently;
there is, after all, plenty of variation within individuals.

the fact that there are lots of occurrences of "themselfs" and
"themselve" is not *proof* that some of these occurrences are intended
variants rather than inadvertent errors, but it makes this position

i've studied a great many non-standard variants, and when i talk about
them, there are almost always some people who dismiss my reports on
the grounds that the expressions in question are just errors
(sometimes even when i tell them the expressions are fine *for me*).


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