21 octobre 2015

Amid the Amidsts

http://chronicle.com/img/photos/biz/linguafranca-45.pngBy . First-year undergraduate writing leaves so much to be desired that it seems silly to get stuck on two letters. But as I grade my first set of papers, I’m struck by the sudden ubiquity of –st:

  • It is interesting to note that whilst the character is dreaming …
  • The true nature of his actions is unbeknownst to the reader.
  • Amongst his peers, Melville was the best at this.
  • Whilst we should not overly concern ourselves with that here …

What’s going on? Most language mavens see the –st forms of these works as archaic and attribute their use to formal-sounding hypercorrection. To some extent, that must be true. Some -st forms came from the adverbial genitive addition of –es in the 14th century — the same formation that gave us besides rather than beside. Some sort of confusion with the –est ending of superlatives left us with amongst, amidst, whilst — and, in fact, against, the only one that remains current in common American usage. More...

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