A Whole Nother Thing
From the "learn something new every day" department
To live in a house with a teenager is to constantly
improve expand one’s vocabulary.
Far from being serenaded by any mellifluous panegyric or ululation, our senses are assaulted with rhythmic monosyllabic daggers like “bruh,” “sus,” or “mid” that stab holes in our hopes for articulate and well-spoken offspring.
But isn’t every generation granted its own unique set of words? Somewhere among each successive group, there must be some older non-peer who works undercover and deals in illicit phrases and nonsense words, giving middle schools starter kits of new slang.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, we had our own versions with words and phrases that were equally as annoying to our parents, such as “homey,” “wassup,” “gnarly,” and “fly.”
So when I recently allowed myself the verbal equivalent of a cheat code by saying “a whole nother” instead of “a whole other” or simply “another,” I thought I was reverting to my childhood.
You know, like slipping into old sweater, even though that shade of green might be out of style and the cuffs are tattered. Okay, maybe there’s a hole or two from a moth. But I’m just wearing it around the house — who’s going to see it, anyway?
The withering look from my wife is all I need to remind me that I was going to throw it away last season. But the warmth and comfort of nostalgia tug heavily at me.
But that’s a whole nother thing.
Ah — that’s where we were. I thought the phrase was something from my childhood. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Upon researching “a whole nother,” I found that nother itself goes back to the 14th century, with whole being appended to it in the 19th century. So not modern slang at all.
Must’ve been those Victorian teenagers.
Even better, I discovered this etymological development has a name: rebracketing or resegmentation.
Rebracketing is where a word originally derived from one set of morphemes is broken down or bracketed into a different set.
And we’re surrounded by them.
Here’s a quick example:
You undoubtedly know what a helicopter is. The two parts of the word are not heli and copter, but helico meaning “spiral,” (as in helix) and pter meaning “winged” (like a pterodactyl).
We then took the parts and appended them to other words, getting things like helipad and police copter.
Here are some other common words you’ll recognize in this category as well.
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