You've got another think coming

Written by Alan Black

A digital copywriter lives to get the message across – clear and fast. So what happens when you encounter a shift in language, and phrases begin to mutate from their original form? Do you stick rigidly to the first meaning, spelling, and pronunciation? Or do you accept the natural fluidity of language and use whatever is most popular? Go down the first route, and you’re in danger of being that irritating pedant no one likes; go down the other and you risk looking like a fool who can’t use words properly.

Here’s an example that came up on Twitter over the weekend: the Guardian style guide raising the question of whether it's ‘another thing coming’ or 'another think coming', referencing this article.

But here’s the thing: language is always evolving. And in this case, the phonetic shift from ‘another think’ to ‘another thing’ is not so much a malapropism as a subtle change in the literal meaning.

Let’s look a bit harder at it. The phrase ‘If you think ‘x’, you’ve got another think coming’ is reckoned to have originated in America as an intentional play on words. Today it has split itself in two, and swapped a ‘k’ for a ‘g’. Why? Communication takes the path of least resistance. In this case, people using ‘another thing coming’ are not going for the full effect of the play on words in ‘another think coming’. The emphasis will lie elsewhere – on the actual thing, rather than the thing/think divide.

Plus, it just sounds wrong.

Pedantry, or good copywriting?

So do you go around correcting people? Or do you just roll with whatever’s popular? There’s obviously not going to be a straight answer – you need to exercise a little discretion. Two more examples: cue the giggles when people use ‘no holes barred’ instead of ‘no holds barred’ (a phrase that comes from wrestling, for a game in which all holds are legal). There’s really no excuse for ‘no holes’ – and for the record, Googling that one is definitely NSFW.

Is it more about copywriting and clichés?

OK, so what about ‘off your own back’ instead of ‘off your own bat’? This one’s slightly trickier – it’s a cricketing term, so the bat is essential to the meaning. But not many people play cricket. ‘Off your own back’ sort of half-works, in a kind of ‘shirt off my back’ way – even if it doesn’t make literal sense. Then again, not many idioms are perfectly formed. Anyway, we’re tying ourselves in knots here, and arriving pretty swiftly at the safest conclusion for this piece: avoid these clichés like the plague.

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