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Etymology of Alright for Grammar Marxists ...

Alright — This is widely considered to be a simple mis-spelling, of "all right", that has only gained traction in the United Kingdom at the end of the 20th century and has gained no traction in the United States. This belief is erroneous.

The 2006 American Heritage Dictionary says that "Despite the appearance of the form alright in works of such well-known writers as Langston Hughes and James Joyce, the single word spelling has never been accepted as standard. This is peculiar, since similar fusions such as already and altogether have never raised any objections. The difference may lie in the fact that already and altogether became single words back in the Middle Ages, whereas alright has only been around for a little more than a century and was called out by language critics as a misspelling. Consequently, one who uses alright, especially in formal writing, runs the risk that readers may view it as an error or as the willful breaking of convention."

Examples of these language critics are H.W. Fowler, who stated unequivocally that "there are no such forms as all-right, or allright, or alright, though even the last, if seldom allowed by the compositors to appear in print, is often seen [...] in manuscripts", and Frederick Thomas Wood, who stated in 1967, in English Prepositional Idioms, simply that it is that it is a mis-spelling, giving it no further treatment.

In fact, as the AHD notes, the word has a long history of usage in print, in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere, dating back to the 19th century.

Indeed, the AHD is underestimating the age of the word (as is the Oxford English Dictionary, whose earliest quotation is from 1893). In the 1849 edition of Martim de Albuquerque's Notes and Queries, on page 413, it is stated that "It may be of some interest to say that the form 'alright' began to appear in Scotland mainly in boys' letters, some six or eight years ago.", making the AHD's "little more than a century" to be at least 163–165 years, and giving the word over 7 decades of use before the language critics of the early 20th century got a-hold of it. (In fairness, it should be noted that an 1883 note in the Texas School Journal and an 1867 letter to the editor of The Journal of Education both object to the use of the word — the latter in classic "Sir, The young people of today ..." style.)

Those "young people of today", most of whom would have been long dead by the time that H.W. Fowler wrote about the word, were of course indulging in nothing more than a normal English word formation process — the same process via which many words that language critics have no problems with, such as "within", "without", "upon", "into", "towards", and, indeed, "already", were themselves formed.

The word that they were coining (or re-coining, given that "alriht" and various other spellings exist in Middle English texts) was merely a variant on a phrase that itself was new at the time. "All right" itself had only been around for a mere two decades before those Scottish boys started writing "alright", having been absent from the (recorded) English language for 430 years, since Chaucer's use of "al right" in approximately 1385. It had only just reappeared in 1822, in Shelley's Scenes from Goethe's Faust.

The word has long since been recognized, too, even in the United States. Merriam-Webster first included it in its dictionary in 1934.

The 1994 Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage gives "alright" a far more lengthy treatment than the two-word treatment given to it by Frederick Thomas Wood, noting the disapproval of Fowler, after whose 1924 denunciation of the word "nearly all usage commentators fall into line", but pointing out that the usual form of such disapproval is to apply a pejorative label to the word or to deny its existence (despite popular recognition of the word — one correspondent having petitioned Merriam-Webster to include it in its dictionary in September 1913) with "no cogent reasons [...] presented for its being considered wrong".

The conclusion that Merriam-Webster presents, in part, is that "alright" was subject to somewhat of a vicious circle: It didn't appear in print outside of reported speech because copy editors suppressed it, correcting manuscripts that contained it. Copy editors suppressed it because they considered it to be wrong. They considered it to be wrong because authorities said that it was wrong. Authorities said that it was wrong because it didn't occur in print in respectable publications, only in manuscripts. And all this began because in the first decade of the 20th century, commentators happened to notice the theretofore quiet existence of "alright" as a word and wanted to argue against what they saw to be a bad analogy.
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Posted by: Rev.Cambeul Thu 02 Nov 2017


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