Jeremy Butterfield

Making words work for you

‘To have another think coming’ or ‘another thing coming’?

29 Comments

The other day, the chirruping bird alerted me to an issue that I hadn’t previously given much thought to. Is it to have (got) another think coming or another thing?

A tweet for English learners referred to the idiom as ‘another thing coming’, and pointed people to a Judas Priest song titled You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, the second verse of which goes like this:

If you think I’ll sit around as the world goes by
You’re thinkin’ like a fool cause it’s a case of do or die
Out there is a fortune waiting to be had
If you think I’ll let you go you’re mad
You’ve got another thing comin’
You’ve got another thing comin’

Conversely, a British English speaker, sought to correct a tweet by a British politician that contained the wording ‘another thing coming’.

Metalheads will already know the song. If you don’t, and you want your ear wax blown out, or wish to indulge in some private moshing or headbanging, you can listen to the original version here:

If you prefer a more mellow approach, here’s the link to veteran smoothie Pat Boone’s version — which kinda proves that heavy metal is non-transferable.

The ‘thing’ spelling is repeated, for example, in:

“If they think I’m going to be a Labrador and roll over they’ve got another thing coming,” he says of the [Conservative] party.

Daily Telegraph (British), 2013.

But the ‘think’ spelling is used here:

In the first instance it sounds good, but if people think those big international companies are here for the benefit of New Zealand, they really have another think coming.

New Zealand Parliamentary debates, 2005.

Since both quotations transcribe what people said, it is impossible to know what form of the phrase the original speakers had in mind.

Stewie says 'another thing', and he's a bit of a stickler.

Stewie says ‘another thing’, and he’s a bit of a stickler.

Quick facts

  1. Speakers use both another thing coming and another think coming. and both are part of World English, although only a few varieties of English use either phrase frequently.
  2. Which version you use may depend partly on which variety of English you speak, and which variant you have been most exposed to—and, possibly, on how much of a  ‘prescriptivist’ you are.
  3. Whichever version you use, someone somewhere may consider it wrong, but British speakers are probably more likely to consider another thing coming wrong.
  4. The Oxford English Corpus (OEC) and the Global Web-Based English Corpus (GloWbE) both show another thing coming to be more frequent in data for all varieties of English taken as a whole.
  5. In US English, data suggests a marked preference for another thing. In British English, the two forms compete more evenly.
  6. Other data on frequency is slightly contradictory (see further details at end of blog).

All the above suggests to me that, if you’re editing someone else’s work and feel tempted to change this phrase, you might want to have a bit of a think about it.


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Where is the phrase from?

In its original form, according to the OED, it was to have another think coming, and it is American in origin:

Conroy lives in Troy and thinks he is a corning fighter. This gentleman has another think coming.

Syracuse (N.Y.) Standard, 21 May, 1898.

But note that Language Log has a citation from a year earlier, from the Washington Post of April 29, 1897, in the title of an article, and in inverted commas.

It’s worth mentioning that think as a noun is merely a nineteenth-century ‘invention’ (1838), despite the antiquity of the verb (Old English). From discussion in the blogosphere, it seems that some people find it rather odd for think to be used as a noun, which would reinforce their use of thing. (It turns out from figures given below that this noun use of think is indeed rare in US and Canadian English.)

The OED’s first example of another thing coming is from only a few years later, from a book published in New York in 1906:

Now if we should try and think up some one person who is satisfied with the existing order of things.., we would most likely have thought that we should find him in the editor of the Wall Street Journal. But if we did, then we have another thing [1904 Wilshire’s Mag. think] coming.

Wilshire Editorials, G. Wilshire.

(Notice how the OED shows the 1904 rendition of the phrase with ‘think’.)

Is anyone bovvered?

Online searches suggest that, rather than caring deeply about which version is correct, many people are simply puzzled when they come across whichever of the two alternatives is not part of their idiolect.

For example, in my idiolect think is correct, and makes sense meaningwise: it means ‘to think again, to change one’s mind, to have second thoughts’, and that meaning is primed for me by the fact that the phrase often follows a clause introduced by ‘if you/he/she, etc. think(s), e.g., And if you think I ‘m letting you get your hands on my crystals you’ve got another think coming.

Moreover, there are analogous uses of think as a noun—to have a think about something, after a bit of a think, and so on.

However, this noun use of think seems to be rather more common in British and Australian English than in American English, according to the OEC data. GloWbE confirms this: of its 440 examples, 370 are from British/Australian/New Zealand/Irish English, and only 30 from US/Canadian.

Similarly, another thing coming makes perfect sense to the people who use it. In that form, the phrase can be interpreted along the lines of ‘something different from what you expect is going to happen to you’. This makes sense too, since both versions of the phrase are a sort of warning, if not a veiled threat.

And while sentences containing another thing coming also often start with ‘if you/he/she, etc. think(s), that doesn’t appear to deter people from using the thing spelling.

youve-got-another-thing-coming_1

Here is an interpretation from a site on which users raise questions about English usage (englishstackexchange.com):

I also grew up with another thing and I still don’t believe think is original. My thoughts are along the following lines. Ehhmm, Ready?? Lots of people, when laying out the list of arguments for their cause will follow that list with, “… And another thing… ” and go on to list more arguments. This was the origin of the phrase in my mind. Think, I reasoned, was then just someone’s clever pun.

And from comments on a Guardian blog on this topic, it is clear that many people are absolutely adamant about which version is ‘correct’. (There is the usual split in comments between the ‘English is going to the dogs’ and the ‘variation is a fact of language’ brigades.)

Why the alternation?

In simple terms, because the sound at the end of think and the beginning of coming is broadly similar, i.e. /θɪŋk/ and /k-/, it is hardly surprising that word boundaries have been re-analysed as sort of /θɪŋ/ /k-/, which produces another thing coming.

Such re-drawings of word boundaries have historically given English words such as adder, apron, nickname, and umpire.

In practice, the phonetic picture is rather more complex, and it can be difficult in rapid speech to tell if a speaker is saying ‘think’ or ‘thing’. A detailed phonetic notation, kindly provided by Professor Jane Setter, of Reading University, is here: think_thing. With think the phenomenon of ‘pre-fortis clipping‘ takes place, affecting the value of the i sound.

(For an exhaustive and illuminating phonetic description of what exactly is going on when someone says the phrase, complete with audio clips, see this Language Log blog.)

What do dictionaries and style guides say?

Neither the Merriam-Webster Concise Dictionary of English Usage nor The Cambridge Guide to English Usage covers it. Burchfield included it in his 1996 edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and I have modified it in my edition. The OED describes to have another thing coming as ‘arising from misapprehension’ of “another think coming”’, but the Oxford Dictionary Online (which is not the OED, but a shorter, more modern dictionary) has no note, and does not include to have another thing coming; nor do Merriam-Webster online, the Collins online dictionary, and the Macmillan dictionary.

Facts & figures

Perhaps dictionaries should look at the issue again; no doubt in time they will.

facts_figures1

Google
A simple Google for ‘another thing/think coming’ shows them practically neck and neck. However, if you exclude ‘Judas Tree’ from each search, the balance shifts towards ‘another think coming’: (roughly 170 million vs 71 million.) I’m dubious, however, about how useful such a simple search is.

OEC
(February 2014 release; 2.14 billion words)

‘another thing’ = 124
US = 56 (45%)
Brit. = 28 (22%)
unknown = 15 (12.1%)
Can. = 7 (5.6%)
Oz = 6 (4.8%)
Remainder (India, Ireland, etc.) = 12

‘another think’ = 94
Brit. = 35 (37%)
US = 29 (30%)
unknown = 11 (11.7%)
NZ = 9 (9.6%)
Oz = 2 (2.1%)
Can. = 1 (1.1%)
Remainder (South Africa, India, etc.) = 10

As regards British English vs US English, in the OEC both variants are used in both varieties, but for American English the ratio of think:thing is 29:56, while for British English it is 35:28.

GloWbE
(1.9 billion words)

‘another thing’ = 119
US = 33 (27.7%%)
Brit. = 32 (26.9%%)
Irish = 12 (10.1%)
Oz = 8 (6.7%%)
Philippines = 5 (4.2%)
Remainder (15 countries) = 29

‘another think’ = 66
Brit. = 26 (39.4%)
US = 18 (27.3%)
Nigeria = 4 (6.1%)
Philippines = 3 (4.5%)
Irish = 2 (3%)
Oz = 1 (1.5%)
Remainder (14 countries) = 12

Corpus of Contemporary American
(450 million words; 1990–2012

another thing:another think 20:23

Google Ngrams
Data here suggests that the exact string ‘got another think coming’ is still more frequent, but that ‘got another thing coming’ has been increasing since the 1960s, while ‘think’ has been declining since the 1980s. The picture is similar for English data as a whole, and for US and British English data individually.

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Author: Jeremy Butterfield

Editor of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Writer, wordsmith, copywriter, copy-editor and lover of words. I provide editing, web copywriting, and marketing copywriting services in the Central Belt of Scotland, including Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounding areas, as well as throughout the UK. You can find me on Twitter @JezzB2.

29 thoughts on “‘To have another think coming’ or ‘another thing coming’?

  1. I tend to think “think” myself. Occasionally, I come across “think” and “thing” in the mystery novels I read, in which some agitated hero or heroine sets the record straight about what he (or she) will or will not do in the face of adversity. In the older British novels, there seems to be a bias toward “think” while “thing” seems to prevail in American mysteries, even as I go back in time. On a side note: about thirty years ago I was editing a collection of new poetry and one of the submissions contained the line “…as I lay in bed thinging.” When I asked the poet about it, thinking (or thinging) he had made a typo, he cited the think/thing phrase and wrote, “Well, they’re pretty synonymous, aren’t they?” Well, actually, no.

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    • Hi, Ralph, thanks for the comments! Oh, dear, I fear your poet was a veritable soi-disant; Mr Eliot would have given him short shrift. I have just rewritten Keats as follows: Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies. | Where but to thing is to be full of sorrow | And leaden-eyed despair.

      Yours, in leaden-eyed despair of soi-disant poets, J.

      Like

  2. Hi Jeremy
    I am a dyed in the wool ‘think’ as a nouner
    So glad you’ve added the word ‘idiolect’
    Using it correctly in a conversation with my sister she took it as insult
    Mind you I kinda hoped she would. Bad

    Tricia

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    • Hi, Triseea

      Good to hear from you! I’m so glad you’re a ‘think’. I think that’s probably the trad British view, but, as the figures on the blog show, Brits now routinely use the other version. xx

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  3. How bizarre! I would never have thought that ‘another thing coming’ was ‘a thing’, as the Americans say. The word think seems right to me but I enjoy variation in language, like most linguists, so I like this post. I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the notion that there is always a ‘right’ form. It’s just a myth put out by people with a mad gleam of self-righteousness in their eyes and a colour-coded sock drawer …

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  4. “Colour-coded sock drawer”! Touché! No, only joking, but some of my best friends …

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  5. Yes, some obsessively tidy people actually keep their socks in a DRAWER! What’s wrong with a plastic bag on the bedside table, I ask myself … 🙂

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  6. It’s always seemed clear to me that it’s a New Yorkism, specifically a lower East side-ism., where language gets twisted in all sorts of crazy ways for comic and colorful effect. See, for instance, the Bowery Boys or the Marx Brothers. Unfortunately, most people today have never heard of them, nor of that type of speech, so they mistake “think”, which is colloquially correct and grammatically incorrect, for “thing”, which is the reverse.

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    • Thanks for commenting: it’s always useful to receive comments. I’ll take your word about thing being a New Yorkism – the first OED citation is indeed from a book published in New York. The comment further below by Ralph Vaughan is interesting for what it says about what he has found in reading, while my figures show that think is also used in US English.

      As regards the grammatical status of think, as I noted, in US/Canad. English its use as a noun is rare, but in British and some other Englishes it is perfectly standard, and is a simple, but long-established, case of ‘conversion’ (i.e. what some people call ‘verbing’).

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, and do please mention the blog to people you think might be interested.

      Like

  7. Dear Mr Butterfield,

    Great subject! Another idiomatic expression learnt!

    I’ve looked up in ilRagazzini dictionary and I’ve found: “(fam.) to have got another think coming: sbagliare di grosso; sognarselo”. Garzanti doesn’t mention neither thing nor think. Google translator did not accepted the thing form. Another think coming was translated in “ricredersi”

    Mentre cercavo le varianti in italiano è stato divertente leggere la sequela di opinioni nel Web, soprattutto nel forum di World Reference.com in cui si fa menzione dei “ThinKist” versus i “ThinGist”. Meraviglioso!

    La saluto cordialmente

    Like

    • Prego, Franca. Dunque, alla fin fine, lei si e rivelata italiana, o mi sbaglio? Non sapevo se lei fosse spagnola, italiana, o catalana.

      La saluto, comunque, e la ringrazio per aver letto il mio blog.

      Like

      • Italiana, anzi Sarda. Da cui il cognome di origine spagnola terminante in U come molti di essi, sia in Sicilia che in Sardegna, vista la dominazione spagnola subita da entrambe.

        Like

  8. E come al solito, per cercare di essere breve finisco per essere maleducata! Le auguro una bella giornata e al prossimo articolo!

    Like

  9. Ecco, grazie per la sua spiegazione.

    Like

  10. How interesting. I’m definitely a think-er and throughout my life in Jersey and Australia, I cannot recall ever reading or hearing it as ‘thing’. Although it’s possible I’ve misheard ‘thing’ as ‘think’, I have never seen it written as ‘thing’. Thus, think-er I remain.

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  11. Thanks for the comment. It’s interesting to hear what you say. It reinforces my hunch that people are firmly in one camp or the other, and find the alternative bizarre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So you could say I’ve got my thinking camp on. It occurred to me that a Cockney might say “fink” when they actually mean “thing”. Perhaps that’s where it originated: “And anuver fink, if you fink I’m goin’ down there, you got anuver fink comin’.” Just a think.

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  12. An ingenious suggestion, fullproofreading (good pun there!). It’s probably ruled out by the American origin of the phrase. I presume ‘thinking camp’ was another play on words. Interestingly, that version of ‘thinking cap’ does occur in tiny numbers on Google.

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    • There are actually people who say “thinking camp”? That was just a pun on my part, but I suppose it’s quite a practical term if you ‘think’ about it. If you get a group of people together for a brainstorming session, it could be classified as a thinking camp.

      Like

  13. Having lived all my 50 years in the American Deep-South, with the notable exception of 7th grade (1st Form), which was spent in Cambridgeshire, I can report that I have only heard “thing” used in this context. I was not aware that “think” was even a thing until I read this blog post. In fack, I though that the post was in jest over a non-issue; I suppose I had another thing coming. Even when getting my degree in British Literature, I can’t remember seeing the “think” variant, though most of the writers studied were not 20th century.

    I j

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    • Fact, not fack. I should proofread better. Anyway, for what it’s worth, this is my geographical perspective.

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    • Thanks for your comment. What you say just tends to confirm the preponderance of ‘thing’ over ‘think’ in US usage. But, as my figures suggest, ‘think’ is not unknown in the US. And the difference is certainly an issue for some editors/speakers of British English.

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  14. This is a great example of the way in which language is fluid and changeable through it’s use and misuse. I don’t consider Judas Priest to be an authority on grammatical correctness, regardless of how they chose to express themselves, but their misuse of the phrase and the effect that has had on popular culture as expressed in language illustrates how language is always changing, despite the rules that govern it, depending on what we look to as a source for authoritative guidance.

    I would say the original “you’ve got another think coming” completes the rule of parallelism, in other words, the second part of the phrase (you’ve got another think coming) completes the thought begun at the beginning of the phrase (If you think . . .) by using the same language. It is the logical conclusion of the sentence. “You’ve got another thing coming” doesn’t follow logically, so, to me, it is not correct. I would point this out to the author. If they insisted on keeping it as is, I would have to leave it incorrect. And my heart would break a little.

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    • I quite agree about the effect of the parallelism, Judith, but people seem to ignore it with the ‘thing’ version. I believe that reistance to accepting ‘think’ as a noun has a lot to do with it.

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      • Thank you for your response, Jeremy. I think you are right, it likely does have to do with the resistance to using ‘think’ as a noun. I wonder where that idiomatic use of the language started? It seems to have been around for a very long time. Could Shakespeare be to blame? I’ve watched British comedy for decades and I have often heard Mrs. Slocombe on “Are You Being Served?” say she was going to “have a think” or “have a cogitate” about something. Again, Mrs. Slocombe is not an authority on the correct use of language either, but here we see another illustration of how culture affects culture.

        Meanwhile, since this charming negation is in the dictionary, I am compelled to continue grieving over it’s slide away from general usage.

        Thank you again for chatting with me Jeremy.

        Have a lovely day!

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      • It still sounds like pure lower-Ease-side wise guy to me, a la the Bowery Boys.

        Like

  15. You may be right, I’m trying to remember anything I ever heard Leo Gorcey say. it’s been a minute. I do love fullproofreading’s comments about the Cockney pronunciation. Such fun!

    Like

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