Temperature Stated As a "Negative"

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Fri Jan 16 13:16:43 UTC 2009

I lived in Philadelphia for five years (2003-8); the first time I ever came
across 'negative x' as a way of expressing any number below zero (whether a
temperature or not) was when I arrived there. In the UK, I'd never heard
'negative x' for such numbers, whether in maths or on a weather chart. For
numbers in general, BrE always uses 'minus x', and that's also the most
common way of referring to temperatures below freezing, though we can also
say 'x (degrees) below zero'.

FWIW, in AmE I'm not sure it's a geographical question (because I heard
'negative x' in Philadelphia, which is close to the linguistic Midland but
not in the Midwest), though I haven't done a survey to check. For all I
know, it could be age-related, but again I have no data. My safest
assumption at the moment is that the two forms are in free variation among
the speakers of AmE: both 'minus x' and 'negative x' are 'correct', but
each speaker will probably have his/her preference, as, for example, for
_economics_, pronounced with /E/ or /i/ at the beginning.


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
York YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) 01904 432665
     (mobile) 0771 853 5634
Fax  01904 432673

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

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