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Hyper

Doug Fisher of Common Sense Journalism points out an interesting hypercorrection: “Lattimore finished with 27 carries for 176 yards and one touchdown, one fewer scores than defensive lineman Melvin Ingram.”

This is the sort of thing you get when someone learns a Rule—in this case, that less is used with mass nouns and fewer with count nouns—and applies it like a coat of thick varnish over every surface. But English doesn’t take well to Rules applied unthinkingly. As Professor Fisher points out, the idiomatic expression in English would be one less score than. It just is.

You also find hypercorrection in speech. Jan Freeman and I have had some friendly disagreement over the pronunciation of often, which can be pronounced with or without sounding the t. My view, which I am not prepared to abandon, is that sounding the t is a hypercorrection that over time has become so commonplace as to be acceptable.

There is some interesting information at English Language & Usage, which quotes the Random House Dictionary as saying that the t pronunciation was common until the seventeenth century, after which omitting it became common in educated British and American speech. “Common use of a spelling pronunciation” has restored it.

Thus, as literacy became more widespread, “spelling pronunciations” developed, either because people encountered words in print more than in speech, or thought that written language had primacy over spoken language. That coincides with my own experience growing up—mind you, I am not a phonologist—of hearing the t in often more commonly in the speech of schoolteachers, or African-Americans who had a college education, than among the slovenly pronouncing uneducated, who said offen and also commonly used ain’t.

But I’ll grant Ms. Freeman’s point that the t pronunciation has become widespread enough that it can no longer be considered solely as a marker of striving for upward mobility and might be a regional variant.

If any of you are interested in exploring other hypercorrections, please feel free to comment.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:22 PM | | Comments (10)
        

Comments

I was in England recently and heard a newsreader on the Beeb pronounce "issue" to rhyme with "miss you." When I was growing up in England I don't recall hearing anything other than ishoo (ditto tishoo for tissue). Is the spelling pronunciation of issue also a modern hypercorrection?

(M-W lists ishoo as the standard pronunciation and cites iss-you as mainly Br.)

Not sure it really applies to the theme of your solicitation, but I wonder whether the use of "myself" in places that require no reflexive can be considered a hypercorrection.

The myself thing is a classic hypercorrection born of status anxiety: either fear of making a confusing i and me, or fear of appearing egocentric.

Small world--the comic strip "Zits" deals with this very topic (from a teen point of view, of course) in this morning's paper.

I actually thanked one of my colleagues for using "ask Susan or me" in a message the other day. I was prepared to flinch at "ask Susan or I" and was pleasantly surprised to not have to. The young lady I addressed knows me well enough to both mock me and be pleased at the same time.

"Issyue" was standard in RP in the 19th and first part of the 20th century. Hence the joke about "Issue? I don't even *know* you", which depends on "issue" rhyming with "kiss you".

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, in its entry on less, fewer, notes that fewer "is sometimes used in such a way as to make one suspect that an editor rather than a writer is responsible for the fewer" (p. 593). I wouldn't be surprised if that was true here.

Sometime in the 1970s, I think it was, I began hearing people, local TV news announcers in particular, say "controver-see-all". I was only 20 or so but still enough of a language-lover/peever-in-training to be dismayed. I had learned the word as "controvershial" and knew instinctively that spelling pronunciations were the refuge of parvenus.

I ask not to pick nits, but for information.

In your original example, you claim that the idiomatic expression is "one less score than." What do you base that on?

In this setting, I'd have said "one score less than," unless I've misunderstood the original text. To me, "one score fewer than" would also be correct, if somewhat stilted.


"Flow gently, sweet 'Often', among thy green braes!
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise!
My Mary's asleep by the murmuring stream--
Flow gently, sweet 'Often', disturb not her dream!

(Apologies to the revered Bard of Ayr, Robert Burns for taking liberties. Aye, sweet "Afton" it is, laddie..........Be gentle Laura Lee.)

As the late, great SNL alum, Gilda Radner's hearing-challenged reoccurring character, Emily Litella, was want to say....... "Never mind."

ALEX

P.S.: After the gravitas and solemnity of this past Sunday, Sept. 11th, and the 10th anniversary remembrance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I just felt like a little silliness, for what it's worth, might be in order.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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