March 08, 2008

Lisa: Kudos on your correct usage of "amongst." Ugh.

I use plenty of long and arguably obscure words in conversation, so I'm not sure why I got irritated the other day when someone I was talking to used "amongst." I was all ready to find out he was using the word incorrectly, but a little research turned this up instead.

among vs. amongst

Dr. Grammar: "Both are correct and mean the same, but among is more common."
Columbia Guide to Standard American English: a few minor but confusingly-worded differences, such as "amongst has a rather dusty-genteel quality...among is often followed by a singular collective."
Blurtit: "the word "among" should be applied to contexts when people, or things are stationary (they remain in one place), while "amongst" is used more frequently for people or things that are in a state of motion."

Consensus: Among is more modern and colloquial, where amongst is more formal and British. Other than that, they're pretty much interchangeable. So...if you use amongst in regular conversation, you will be correct. Pretentious, but correct.

I was similarly foiled when I tried to find justification for my smirk at the large "KUDO" hand-written on a printout of an email posted in the back room at work. Although I did find kudos in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as expected ("praise given for achievement"), there was also an entry for kudo. To wit:

Some commentators hold that since kudos is a singular word it cannot be used as a plural and that the word kudo is impossible. But kudo does exist; it is simply one of the most recent words created by back-formation from another word misunderstood as a plural. Kudos was introduced into English in the 19th century; it was used in contexts where a reader unfamiliar with Greek could not be sure whether it was singular or plural. By the 1920s it began to appear as a plural, and about 25 years later kudo began to appear. It may have begun as a misunderstanding, but then so did cherry and pea.

So, there you go. Dumb people are allowed to just make their own words. And that is why you'll find me watching Cops in the evenings, pencil in hand, taking notes ON OUR FUTURE.

Posted by lisa at March 08, 2008 08:51 PM

So then, do you throw your hat in with the conservative or liberal lexicographer? The conservatives tend to think that good communication is predicated on a well-structured language with clearly defined rules and word meanings. The liberals tend to hold that language is fluid, with word meanings changing as common understandings and interpretations change. I used to side with the conservatives, but have migrated toward the liberal camp as I've come to accept the inevitability of change.

My favorite example has to be "snuk," used as a past-tense of "sneak." Technically, if you previously skulked about, you "sneaked" around. "Snuk" simply doesn't exist. But the reality is that if I tell you I snuk a new word into the English language, you know what I mean -- because usage/understanding have combined to create a new word (and one that was very likely created out of ignorance).

Posted by: Dave on March 10, 2008 10:31 AM

Getting back to "among," a one of my favorite mistakes is to confuse "between" and "among." Between is meant to be used when two (and only two) parties are involved, because tween/twain/two indicate a pair (and not a group). Hence, "the war between the States" should be "the war among the States," or "the war between the North and South."

But good luck trying to get that change to happen . . . :)

I also enjoy the phrase "steep learning curve," which is often used to describe something that is difficult to learn. In time-plot graphs, time is usually plotted on the X (horizontal) axis, while the amount is usually plotted on the Y (vertical) axis. So if a learning curve appears "steep," the amount you learn is rising very quickly when compared to time -- meaning you learn a great deal of information in a short period of time, which indicates that the lessons are easy to learn.

Of course, the common understanding of the phrase is that a "steep learning curve" means something is difficult to understand or master -- regardless of how the phrase probably ought to be used.

Posted by: Dave on March 10, 2008 10:46 AM

This reminds me of the action-packed thriller A Stranger Among Us starring Melanie Griffith. And I think now that it should have been A Stranger Amongst Us. I feel just terrible bringing this film up sorry.

Posted by: Jeremy on March 10, 2008 10:52 AM

Remember how Mom used to buy Kudos bars sometimes? And how they were tasty? Mmm Kudos. I would enjoy being amongst many Kudos.

Posted by: sarah on March 17, 2008 12:31 PM
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