The other day I noticed a tweet about a big demo in London – the demonstrators wanted to revoke some obscure Article or other, I can’t quite recall which, or what it’s all about. Anyway, one of them tweeted that they were ‘proud to be apart of it’. It should, of course, be a part.

The first time I saw this supergluing of ‘a’ to ‘part’ I was puzzled. And still I remain puzzled, though less so; less, because the obvious has been pointed out to me: when you say a part and apart, they sound more or less the same and are therefore what are called homophones. In other words, they’re like their and they’re, which you will often see confused.

So far so good. But, but, but (splutter) to use one for the other still doesn’t make any kind of sense to me.

However, there are several sites that have notes or blogs warning against muddling the two up. So it must be true that people do muddle them up. And those same blogs usually lay their hands on grammar, mentioning off-putting word such as ‘adverb’ and the like. But surely the people who make the mistake in the first place wouldn’t know an adverb if they found it in their soup?

The same sites try another tack, which is to suggest that ‘apart’ will often go with ‘from’, while ‘a part’ will often go with ‘of’. Mmm. (To be said with a lingering falling tone denoting considerable scepticism, if not astounded disbelief. My mother-in-law is rather good at it.) The only problem is that those words follow the mistake, and the people who make it do not tend to post-edit what they write, let alone what they say.

However, if you need help in this area, I’d say one way to remember when to write apart as one word is to think of the verbs it often goes with: drift apart, fall apart, tear/rip apart, break apart, pull apart, tell apart and so forth. With none of those does ‘of’ go.


And not editing might be a part of the issue. Occasionally I find that I have unwittingly keyed then for than (e.g. bigger then him) or their for they’re. There might therefore be an explanation (or a part of one) that runs something like this: where homophones exist, and users are not policing what they write, the form that was most recently used/is uppermost in the user’s mind is the one that will be keyed. The beauty of this theory is that it is hard to see how it can be proved or disproved. Woteva. Even supposing it is true, however, it’s hard to believe that for most people apart is more frequent than a part, isn’t it?

Think again.

In the 2014 Oxford Corpus I consulted apart occurs 148,655 times vs 71,253 times for a part. Which might lend some weight to my pseudo-theory. In contrast, when you look at the string a part of, the picture is rather different: a part of is exemplified 55,198 times vs apart of 635 times in the same corpus (that is, just over one per cent). Which doesn’t, of course, disprove my theory.

If you need a mnemonic – forget about the impossible mn, just pronounce it nimonick – think of New York, New York. ‘I want to be a part of it, is matched by ‘I’ll make a brand new start of it’ – not abrand new start of it. I know, it’s not the same, but I’mclutchingatstraws here. Perhaps I’ll just go with the metropolitan elitist maxim: ‘In language, the ignorant have prescribed laws to the wise.’ (Richard Duppa, Maxims, 1830)

Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

I want to wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap

These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York

 

2 Comments

  1. If you’re dealing with New Yorkers using apart instead of a part, I strongly recommend changing your social matrix.
    To be fair, typing on the Internet does rather leave one open to autocorrect getting wrong ideas above its station e.g. I write its, autocorrect tsk tsks me, changing to it’s, and I hit send before I’ve realised. Humiliating.

    Liked by 1 person

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