Q&A: Another think vs thing coming

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we're in a think tank…

Q: Hi AWC, can you help solve an argument?

A: Is it over which year was worse – 1348 or 2020?

Q: Um, no.

A: Is it over which character from Friends was more annoying – Ross or Chandler?

Q: Well that’s obvious. Could he BE more annoying? But no…

A: Okay, we give up.

Q: Well, I was having an argument with my friend and she said, “If you think you’re right, you have another think coming”…

A: Ahhh…

Q: I pointed out her typo, in that it should be “another THING coming” and she doubled down by saying if I thought THAT was right, I really did have another think coming. Then *I* said that if she thought that was right, it was actually HER that had another thing coming… Help!

A: Well… “Another think coming” doesn’t look right does it…

Q: Of course not! “Think” is a verb, not a noun. “Excuse me while I pick up this think from the ground. I will now place this think into a plastic bag filled with water and put it in my think tank…” Ridiculous!

A: Well, you are correct in that it’s not a goldfish…

Q: I checked the dictionary and “think” is to have a thought and so on. Verb verb verb. A “thing” is a noun. You can have another one of those, right?

A: We’re going to put you out of your misery. She’s not wrong.

Q: Nooooo! Why? It makes no sense!

A: And so we reintroduce you to the wonderful world of idioms. Remember, they don’t care if they make sense or not – they just know that when they were lexically fossilised, that was the form they took.

Q: I refuse to believe this one though. I suppose we’ll have to go back in time to learn all about it, right?

A: Yes, we will. If you’d care to make the sound effects please?

Q: Ugh, okay. Doodly doo… doodly doo… doodly doo…

A: Thanks. And here we are back in 1898. The Modern Olympics have just been revived, Queen Victoria will rule for three more years, and the WiFi is terrible everywhere. Meanwhile, in Syracuse, New York, the local newspaper just printed the first reference to the phrase: Conroy lives in Troy and thinks he is a coming fighter. This gentleman has another think coming.”

Q: Who was Troy? Why was Conroy living in him? Is this another trojan horse situation?

A: What? No! Troy is the name of another town in New York. Anyway, our point is that the phrase was used as a witty way of saying that someone was mistaken and should reconsider their opinion. “If you think something and I think it’s wrong, then you have another think coming your way.”

Q: So it always needed the verb at the beginning?

A: Yes, without the presence of “If you think/thought” at the beginning, then the payoff doesn’t work. And as for your claim that “think” was never a noun, hop back in the time machine please.

Q: Really? Sigh… Doodly doo… doodly doo… doodly doo…

A: Excellent. And here we are now in 1834. The first DC electric motor has just been invented, Queen Victoria is three years away from beginning her rule and you can’t buy microwave popcorn anywhere. It’s also the first year that “think” is recorded as a noun – the act of prolonged thinking.” Can you think of any obvious examples?

Q: Hmmm. Let me have a think…

A: Exactly!

Q: Oh, I see what you did there. 

A: We point this out simply to illustrate that saying “you have another THINK coming” wasn’t completely insane, although we suspect only ever designed to be a pithy retort. It’s simply a dramatic way of saying “think again” – and if you think that sounds absurd, you have another think coming.

Q: Okay, so you’ve succeeded in legitimising “another think coming”. But I’m sure I’ve seen “thing” plenty of places – in fact I’ve just noticed that even my grammar checker is trying to correct it! What gives?

A: And this is where modern English gets the final say. Ahem. 

Q: What?

A: Modern English. We need to go back to present day. If you will?

Q: Seriously? I’m not making doodly doo effects.

A: Hmmmph, fine, we’ll just assume we’re back in 2020. It didn’t take long for the “pithy intentions” of the original idiom to become lost. 

Q; What a pithy. Hahaha.

A: Anyway, along with the fact that the two words sounded almost identical in speech, there was also the assumption that “thing” was the common noun so this must in fact be the thing that everyone had coming.

Q: Exactly!

A: We’ve talked about “eggcorns” before – essentially mistaken versions of words or phrases, which persist because they actually make logical sense. “Another thing coming” fitted that category because just like you, people couldn’t imagine a world where a “think” was on its way somewhere. A “thing” though? Much better!

Q: Well it IS rather silly.

A: And this is the point in the story where everyone should stop fighting and agree to call it a draw. The purists will continue to argue that “another think coming” is the original version – because it was – and that it’s also more logical; also true. However, modern users prefer to opt for the simpler “another thing coming” – helped along by song lyrics (specifically this 1980s Judas Priest song), TV shows and the occasional sloppy journalist.

Q: It’s quite funny that using either word elicits the same meaning, isn’t it?

A: Not quite. Remember that “another think coming” has a more humorous, cerebral tone. You simply have another thought heading your way. Meanwhile, we can imagine a fight breaking out after the threat of “another thing coming” being announced. After all, that thing could be a fist!

Q: True. And speaking of fights, while I concede that my friend is NOT wrong, I’m not exactly wrong either, right?

A: We never said you were. Such is the joy of using an evolving language – it bends to the will of the people! Your “another thing coming” is actually the more common version these days, but we would still recommend “think” for any writing where you want to be taken seriously.

Q: Hmmm, maybe. You’ve definitely given me lots of thinks to thing about today… Thangs for that!

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