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The Word Guy: You Can Count on 'All Told'

By Rob Kyff
Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
 

Question: I thought the word meaning “all counted” was “tolled,” as in “When all the people arrived at the party, all tolled, there were close to a hundred of them.” However, I have seen the word “told” used more than “tolled.” Which is correct?

— Teri Eastman via email

Answer: Your confusion is understandable. After all, the verb “toll” can mean, “to collect a fee,” which could involve adding up numbers. And “toll” can also mean, “to ring a bell,” which can also imply counting, as when clock tower tolls a certain number of times to indicate the hour.

But the correct choice is indeed “all told” — but not, as you might think, because the total number is being told, that is, revealed.

The “told” in “all told” derives instead from an older meaning of “tell”: “to count.” This meaning still survives in the noun “teller,” a bank employee who counts money. Because the past tense of “tell” is “told,” “all told” means “all counted.”

Q: I took an employment agency test recently that included one of those spot-the-error sections. One of the sentences was: “If he thinks that's true, he has another thing coming.” I circled it as incorrect, because it should read, “another think coming,” but the recruiter marked me incorrect and told me “thing” is correct. I'm pretty sure the whole point is that someone THINKS something that is incorrect and so has another “think” coming. What are your thoughts?

— Kate, Ireland via email

A: Do you mean, “What are my thinks?”

For the first 50 years of my life, I thought the phrase was “another thing coming.” At least, that's what I thought people were saying, and I had never seen the phrase in print.

But a few years ago, I discovered that I had another think coming.

You're right, and the recruiter is wrong. Usage authorities agree that the correct rendering is “another think coming.” The phrase emerged during the early 20th century when some wag thought it would be clever to write something like, “If you think Prohibition will work, then you have another think coming.” The phrase first appeared in print in 1937 when its use was reported by the journal American Speech.

Usage expert Bryan Garner partially blames the mistaken rendering on the popular song “You've Got Another Thing Coming,” first recorded by the heavy metal band Judas Priest in 1982.

And if you think I know anything about heavy metal bands, you have another think coming.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send email to Wordguy@aol.com or send regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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