Three Words: Another Think Coming (or is it “Thing”?)

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Can common usage of a common word like “thing” be wrong — even when it’s grammatically correct?

AnotherThink

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.)


Comments

Three Words: Another Think Coming (or is it “Thing”?) — 12 Comments

  1. I’ve read this somewhere before with pretty much the same argument you make, but not with the same humor. It was more matter of fact. I agree with the argument. However, to tangle with Contrary Gary, Devious Dev says that another “thing” coming also can make perfect sense if you accept the omission of “for him/her/you” at the end as implied.
    So when Hawkeye thinks it’s easy to pilot that stealthbomber, he has another thing coming for him, presumably another problem. In this interpretation the original sentence has this structure:
    If X thinks s/he has , s/he has another thing/problem coming (for her/him).
    The part in is replaceable by whatever solution to whatever problem X is dealing with. Hawkeye had a problem: a stealthbomber. He figured he can fly it easily. But he can’t foresee the other problem(s) headed his way. She-devil had a problem: steal some woman’s man. She figured out a way to do it. But she didn’t foresee the other problem headed her way: the woman fighting back.

    In your interpretation the emphasis is on the thinking, or basically on the person’s state of mind: if X thinks this, he’s got another think coming. In the other interpretation, the emphasis is on the external situation, or the person’s actions, the thing the person did or is planning to do: if X thinks she can do this thing, she’s got another thing coming.

    Does that make sense?

    • The html parser took out something from my comment, I’ll rewrite it here:
      If X thinks s/he has «solved a problem» , s/he has another thing/problem coming (for her/him).
      The part in « » is replaceable by whatever solution to whatever problem X is dealing with.

  2. Two comments. First for the longest time I thought “thing” was the fully correct form of the expression – it never occurred to me that it should be “think”. But one day I noticed someone saying “think”. Putting aside @dsamaddar’s insight for the moment my first reaction was they got it wrong but upon reflection realized that they probably had it right and I had been wrong.

    But since I teach phonetics I also wonder if the shift from “think” to “thing” may also reflect a production shortcut (i.e., some of us just being lazy). The two words are almost identical in the way they are produced. Both start with a form of “th” and the same vowel and then have an “ng” (btw – NOT the same as “n” followed by “g” – we just don’t have a single symbol in our alphabet for “ng”). But to produce the word “think” we then have to add a “k”. To do that is surprisingly simple. Both sounds involve the back of the tongue being up against the soft palate; “ng” also has the back of the nose open while it is closed for “k” – to get from “ng” to “k” all we have to do is close off the back of our nose before we drop the tongue out of the way. If drop our tongue before we close off back of the nose, the “k” is never heard. So saying “thing” instead of “think” might just reflect taking the easier way out (i.e., leaving off that extra step).

    • Peter, I thing you’re absolutely right. Language always evolves along the path of least phonetic resistance. It’s just that that path leads through some really weird etymological quicksand bogs, along the way.

      P.S.: For any readers who may not know, Peter is a professor of speech pathology, a textbook author, phonetics expert, and owner of the website SLPInfo.org. Peter, your perspective is most valuable!

    • A further thought, Peter: In both versions of the expression, the word that follows think/thing (“coming”) starts with a hard “K” sound. This makes the sound difference between “… think coming” and “…thing coming” extremely subtle.

      It’s not so subtle one can’t hear it. I can — but probably only if I’m actively listening for it. It’s therefore easy to understand how the original “think” could morph, phonetically, into “thing”.

    • Thanks, Janelle. Great to hear from you.

      Especially since, if my memory serves, you and Hank are today celebrating your 40th anniversary. Congratulations, and thanks for ducking out of the party for a quick visit. ≧◔◡◔≦

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