Can common usage of a common word like “thing” be wrong — even when it’s grammatically correct?
This question pesters people like me, worrying as we do about whether grammar “rules” should be prescriptive or descriptive.
For some time lately, I’ve been hearing the expression “another thing coming”. As in:
“If Hawkeye thinks it’ll be easy to pilot that stealth bomber, he’s got another thing coming.”
(Which raises the question: What other thing? But that’s a different story.)
The original expression, which I’ve heard all my life, is “another think coming”. As in:
“If that she-devil thinks she’s woman enough to take my man, she’s got another think coming!”
There’s a lot to like in the earlier, original wording (with “think” rather than “thing”). A purist might object that it’s grammatically incorrect. But that’s the point: It deliberately flouts the rule that says “think” is a verb, never a noun.
This calculated rule-breaking makes the expression fun, witty, and irreverent. It’s a linguistic tweak of someone’s smug nose.
What caused the original wording to change from “think” to “thing”? Or rather, who caused it?
For all I know, it may have been a mere slip of the tongue by some broadcaster, or by a popular actor or singer. One such eggcorn is all it takes, these days, to turn language on its head.
But my cynical alter ego suspects it may have been some humorless copy editor. Perhaps some such miscreant, while “correcting” someone else’s already correct writing, said, “Hey, ‘think’ doesn’t make any sense here. Surely it’s supposed to be ‘thing’!” One self-important grammar cop at a major news outlet or publishing house is also all it now takes.
Either way, the damage was done: We sucked the life right out of a fun, perfectly sensible way of speaking, turning it into something insipid.
Besides being bland and boring, it’s really “another thing coming” that makes no sense. Because in the event described, there is no “thing” en route: It’s a rethinking the speaker predicts, one soon to be forced by dawning reality.
Back to our original question: Is either of these usages (“think” or “thing”) wrong?
Well, “think” isn’t strictly grammatical in such a context. That doesn’t matter: Idiomatic expressions are not supposed to be grammatical. They’re supposed to mean something — and this one does.
“Another thing coming” isn’t wrong either. At least not from any technical standpoint. It breaks no laws of grammar or syntax.
But to Contrary Gary, accustomed as he is to the original usage, it just feels wrong. Language is what connects us and makes us human. Isn’t it always a mistake to impoverish our speech by repeating something we hear others say, without paying attention to what it means? When we miss the whole point of the intended saying?
Maybe I’m being too pedantic here. (It wouldn’t be my first time!) But if you think I’m about to stop, you’ve got another — oh, never mind! ≧◔◡◔≦
(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)