Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dangerous offenders

"Murderer declared dangerous offender," the headline reads.

Well, DUH! you may think.

Unless you're Canadian.

In Canadian English "dangerous offender" is a legal term with a specific meaning (not just an offender who happens to be dangerous):
a person who has been convicted of a serious personal injury offence and constitutes a threat to the life, safety, or physical or mental well-being of others, and whose history suggests little hope of reform, who is imprisoned indefinitely.
This classification has existed since the late 1960s in Canada.

A recent headline in The Globe and Mail would no doubt cause some puzzlement to non-Canadians:
Saskatchewan man who beat woman, set her on fire not dangerous offender: judge
In fact the decision in this gruesome case probably also caused some puzzlement to many Canadians, but not so much of the linguistic kind.

Since 2003, British law has also had a "dangerous offender" classification, with a somewhat different definition:
dangerous offenders will be given an extended sentence of imprisonment, which is a determinate sentence of which the defendant must serve at least half. The defendant may be released during the second half of the sentence, providing he receives a positive recommendation from the Parole Board. In addition to the extended sentence provisions under the Act, dangerous offenders must also receive extended supervision periods of up to five years for nonviolent offenders and up to eight years for violent offenders. 


Would you like to know more about the history of the English language (including the particularities of Canadian English)? If you live in the Greater Toronto area, sign up for my fun course this fall:
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2017/07/history-of-english-language-course-this.html
To have fun facts about English delivered weekly right to your inbox, click here to subscribe by email. 

Did you know Wordlady is available as an expert witness for trademark litigation? If my expertise can help you, please get in touch at wordlady.barber@gmail.com
Looking for an entertaining speaker? Here are some of my topics:

Why is English so wacky?
A fun-filled and light-hearted but informative look at the weirdness of the English language and how it got to be the way it is. Includes things you never suspected about husbands, ptarmigan, porcelain, and much more. Laughs guaranteed...even when you find out why "guarantee" has such an odd spelling.

Bachelor for Rent: Things You Never Suspected About Canadian English”
A hilarious look at what is distinctive about Canadians and their language

English Schminglish: How Jews have Enriched our Language”
An entertaining look at how Hebrew and Yiddish words have enriched the English language for thousands of years

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Perhaps and maybe

https://youtu.be/GUVT1NZtZPo


https://youtu.be/fWNaR-rxAic


I wrote "perhaps" in a facebook message to a friend, and then I started wondering, why did I say "perhaps" rather than "maybe"? Why do we have these two synonyms? Does "perhaps" sound old-fashioned and formal?

Half French or Latin (per = "by") and half Viking (hap,  = chance or good fortune, the source of "happy" and "happen"), "perhaps" is a lovely hybrid word showing the mixed-up nature of the history of English.

It was rather late to the party of "possibly" words, turning up in the early 1500s, when several other synonyms -- "peradventure", "percase", "perchance", "mayhap", "haply" -- had already been around for over a hundred years.  But, fortunately for the lyricist of the Doris Day song above (try writing a song with the refrain "peradventure"!), "perhaps" marched steadfastly to dominance from the 1600s onward.

But is it in turn going to be ousted by an upstart, in this case "maybe"?

"Maybe", a smooshed-together version of the phrase "it may be", is in fact older than "perhaps", dating from the 1400s.  The OED has this to say:
Although found in major 17th-cent. writers, the word is not frequent in standard literary English before the mid 19th cent., but becomes frequent in poetic sources in the later 19th cent. It occurs frequently in 19th-cent. novels as a marker of dialectal or colloquial speech, and is labelled in the New English Dictionary (1906) as ‘archaic and dialectal’ and by J. Elphinston Principles of the English Language (1750) as a colloquialism, although it is entered without comment in Johnson and Webster.
How odd to think of "maybe" being considered "archaic and dialectal" just over a century ago. But if you look at the charts below, comparing frequencies over time in the Corpus of Historical American English, you can see how very infrequent it was, at least in writing, in the 19th century. You can see  "perhaps" steadily holding its own, but "maybe" creeps up on it, and then gallops to overtake it at the end of the 20th century, a trend confirmed by the more recent Corpus of Contemporary American English.

The COCA charts also reveal that "maybe" is much more common in spoken English, whereas "perhaps" is more favoured in writing. In fact, one group of writers doesn't want any of your damn "maybe", thank you very much: academics sure don't like it! 

But if the increased overall use of "maybe" continues (and there's no reason to think it won't), "perhaps" will likely begin to sound more and more formal, stuffy, and possibly (eventually) as archaic as "mayhap" or "peradventure". I think it is only a matter of time before "maybe" becomes very dominant.

Besides, "maybe" has a secret weapon: it is the only word in Modern English that rhymes with "baby", thus making it a shoo-in for use in popular songs. "Perhaps", in contrast, has many more rhymes, but here they are:
  • collapse
  • elapse
  • prolapse
  • relapse
  • synapse
  • lapse
  • caps
  • chaps
  • claps
  • craps
  • flaps
  • gaps
  • laps
  • Lapps
  • maps
  • naps
  • raps
  • saps
  • scraps
  • slaps
  • snaps
  • straps
  • taps
  • traps
  • wraps
  • yaps
  • zaps

I can't imagine Carly Rae Jepsen making a hit out of any of those! Not even perchance.

Tell me what you think about "perhaps" and "maybe". Is "perhaps" beginning to sound old-fashioned? Would you ever use "maybe" in formal writing?

Would you like to know more about the history of the English language? If you live in the Greater Toronto area, sign up for my fun course this fall:
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2017/07/history-of-english-language-course-this.html
To have fun facts about English delivered weekly right to your inbox, click here to subscribe by email. 

Did you know Wordlady is available as an expert witness for trademark litigation? If my expertise can help you, please get in touch at wordlady.barber@gmail.com
Looking for an entertaining speaker? Here are some of my topics:

Why is English so wacky?
A fun-filled and light-hearted but informative look at the weirdness of the English language and how it got to be the way it is. Includes things you never suspected about husbands, ptarmigan, porcelain, and much more. Laughs guaranteed...even when you find out why "guarantee" has such an odd spelling.



Bachelor for Rent: Things You Never Suspected About Canadian English”

A hilarious look at what is distinctive about Canadians and their language
English Schminglish: How Jews have Enriched our Language”
An entertaining look at how Hebrew and Yiddish words have enriched the English language for thousands of years


perhaps - COHA
SECTION FREQ SIZE (M) PER MIL
1810 494 1.2 418.22
1820 3,169 6.9 457.47
1830 5,114 13.8 371.26
1840 5,354 16.0 333.62
1850 6,131 16.5 372.22
1860 6,188 17.1 362.83
1870 7,077 18.6 381.26
1880 7,258 20.3 357.26
1890 7,334 20.6 356.00
1900 7,866 22.1 355.97
1910 8,296 22.7 365.45
1920 8,716 25.7 339.76
1930 7,384 24.6 300.13
1940 7,698 24.3 316.17
1950 7,533 24.5 306.91
1960 7,408 24.0 308.96
1970 7,752 23.8 325.51
1980 7,944 25.3 313.79
1990 7,218 27.9 258.33
2000 6,486 29.6 219.36
TOTAL 132,420






maybe - COHA
SECTION FREQ SIZE (M) PER MIL
1810 9 1.2 7.62
1820 37 6.9 5.34
1830 126 13.8 9.15
1840 215 16.0 13.40
1850 163 16.5 9.90
1860 522 17.1 30.61
1870 413 18.6 22.25
1880 513 20.3 25.25
1890 420 20.6 20.39
1900 1,216 22.1 55.03
1910 2,122 22.7 93.48
1920 2,706 25.7 105.48
1930 4,083 24.6 165.96
1940 5,218 24.3 214.31
1950 5,784 24.5 235.65
1960 5,987 24.0 249.70
1970 6,961 23.8 292.29
1980 7,419 25.3 293.06
1990 10,232 27.9 366.19
2000 10,895 29.6 368.48
TOTAL 65,041






perhaps -COCA
SECTION  FREQ SIZE (M) PER MIL
SPOKEN 19,368 109.4 177.05
FICTION 27,024 104.9 257.61
MAGAZINE 22,341 110.1 202.90
NEWSPAPER 16,410 106.0 154.86
ACADEMIC 24,558 103.4 237.45





1990-1994 25,302 104.0 243.29
1995-1999 22,118 103.4 213.81
2000-2004 21,542 102.9 209.27
2005-2009 19,197 102.0 188.13
2010-2015 21,542 121.6 177.20
TOTAL 109,701






maybe -COCA
SECTION  FREQ SIZE (M) PER MIL
SPOKEN 46,237 109.4 422.67
FICTION 63,619 104.9 606.47
MAGAZINE 17,165 110.1 155.89
NEWSPAPER 16,084 106.0 151.79
ACADEMIC 3,234 103.4 31.27





1990-1994 25,027 104.0 240.65
1995-1999 28,809 103.4 278.49
2000-2004 27,102 102.9 263.28
2005-2009 28,765 102.0 281.90
2010-2015 36,636 121.6 301.36
TOTAL 146,339


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.