Monday, February 24, 2014

Random thoughts on Time and tide wait for no man

I was looking at early uses of the word hardly when I came cross this:

The Tyde Taryeth No Man, John Payne Collier, 1576 [GB]

I wondered if 'The tyde taryeth no man' was simply another way of saying 'time and tide wait for no man', an older meaning of tarry being "delay or retard" (Online Etymology Dictionary). This got me to wondering where this well-known idiom came from. Looking on the Internet, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was Chaucer, and you can even buy mugs with the quote attributed to Chaucer on them.
But in fact the first known appearance in exactly this form wasn't until the late eighteenth century, although there had been many similar expressions before.
Update - since first posting this I've amended it slightly and will probably be amending it again, as I find more.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The origins of all of a sudden

A thread at the language forum Pain in the English discusses the expression all of a sudden and two apparent variants:
  • all of the sudden
  • all the sudden
As this Ngram graph shows, all of a sudden has long been the standard version, but apparently the second version is used to a certain extent in North America, and somebody suggested that the third is used in the North of England (although I can find no evidence of that).
This doesn't seem to be a particularly big issue, as neither Burchfield's third edition of Fowler, or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage have anything to say about it. It's enough of an issue, though, for Bryan Garner, in Garner's Modern American Usage, to write:
all of a sudden. This is the phrase, not *all of the sudden—e.g.: “I wasn't thinking of anything, but all of the sudden [read all of a sudden] I was no longer tired.” Sam Brumbaugh, Goodbye, Goodness: A Novel 108 (2005).
*all of the sudden for all of a sudden: Stage 1
But that little seventeenth-century bump for all of the sudden, plus the discovery that all on a sudden gave all of a sudden quite a run for its money in the first half of the eighteenth century, made me interested to find out more about how this idiom began. And have some fun with the Google Books clip function at the same time.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Word corner - hardly

Recently I did an exercise on hard and hardly with some Upper-intermediate students. They didn't have many problems with when to use which, but the question came up of where hardly should go in a sentence like this with any, anybody etc: before the verb, or before the noun (phrase) or pronoun.
  • You've eaten hardly any toast.
  • You've hardly eaten any toast.
  • I know hardly anybody here.
  • I hardly know anybody here.
and I confess I was temporarily lost for an 'official' answer, although I suspected that both were possible. And that indeed turned out to be the case. But I became rather interested in this question of position, and decided to try and find out a bit more.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

First(ly) and more important(ly)

According to some people, each of the following three quotations, the first from a leading ninteenth-century intellectual, the second from a twentieth century scientist and the third from a noted 'author, playwright, journalist, composer, and public speaker' (Wikipedia), all three British, break not one but two 'rules', or at least conventions.

John Henry Newman (Cardinal Newman) - Certitudes in Religious Assent, published in The Dublin Review, Vol XVI, London and Dublin, 1871

The net results are, firstly that it would be best to drop the term race from our vocabulary, both scientific and popular, as applied to man ; and secondly, and more importantly for our present purpose, that until we ...

Julian Huxley - Eugenics and Society, Galton Lectures 1936

For two reasons. Firstly because it showed an abysmal ignorance of economics. ... Secondly, and much more importantly . . . . . . the 'What- does-it-matter-who-has-them?' school ignored the one thing that it is fatal to ignore in any virile nation.

Beverley Nichols - Men do not Weep 1941

In this post I take a look, from a largely British point of view, at the use of firstly, secondly (etc) and more importantly, to introduce clauses, and at the objections to them.