In another thread I used the word "amongst" where others would have used "among." Dictionaries seem to say that they are interchangable. "Amongst" seems to strike my eye as a bit more proper when it is written in the same way that "among" would strike my ear more favorably when speaking.
I'm fairly sure that I don't use the word "amongst." I tend to think of it as more of a British word.
Interestingly, in looking it up in Dictionary.com, there were 3 dictionaries with it. They all used "among" and "amongst" interchangeably; yet all the examples used "among", except for Marlowe's "Divide that gold amongst you."
"Amongst" strikes my ear as highfaluting, even precious.
There may be a difference between the UK and the US on this one.
I got told off on another thread somewhere for saying the same thing about whilst. I think you are probably right to guess that amongst is more common in the UK. It almost exclusively used by people trying to sound formal and correct, but a few phrases sound odd with among:
a boy among men
talk among yourselves
We'd use amongst in both of these.
Although personally, I tend to use "amongst" I see no problem with "among".
Perhaps those two phrases are in the same vein as "ill-gotten gains".
The "talk amongst yourselves" example was excellent.
Is it just me or is "among" an ugly sounding word? Say it aloud five times (uh-mung, uh-mung, etc) and you'll start to feel a little queasy as if the sound of the word is somehow related to the taste of sour milk.
"Amongst" does sound a bit more British (read "High falutin") which, according to common American prejudice, makes it slightly better than our own homegrown variety of speaking.
It's just you, CJ. Among sounds perfectly fine to me, and I would never say "talk amongst yourselves" or I would look as though I were putting on airs. I would say maybe it's a midwest thing, but you're from the midwest! Likewise, I would never say whilst. Come, now, CJ, do you say whilst with a straight face?
Now, I do note that the Brits often use whilst and amongst.
Amongst and whilst are chiefly British, at least according to dictionaries I've consulted. When Americans use these words, it may sound pretentious and affected, depending on what part of the country you're from. I've said before I believe Southern English is closer to British English than our Northern English dialect. I had a college roommate from West Plains, Missouri, who said twict, acrost, and heighth, rather than twice, across, and height. They sounded perfectly natural coming from him because those were common pronuciations in his dialect. They would sound pretentious coming from me, because that's not part of my dialect. I don't recall him saying amongst and whilst, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did. I would expect them to be part of an Ozark dialect.
Vance Randolph worked extensively in the Oararks, recording their dialect in his many books, including Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech. A website on "Folk Speech" talks about this latter book. It says, in part,
"The speech of older Ozark natives may often be colored with words, colloquial expressions and peculiar grammar (not to mention accent) that is unfamiliar, even unintelligible, to a listener hearing it for the first time. As a consequence, there is sometimes a tendency to think of their speech as quaint, or simply untutored -- and not to recognize it, instead, as a distinctive American dialect.
"The origins and patterns of this dialect are documented extensively in a book by Vance Randolph and George Wilson, Down in the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech. The authors point out that the Ozark dialect is full of anachronisms, dating back to colonial America.
"In fact, some of the vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar of the Ozark region is traced back to an even earlier time: to the 16th Century England of Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare."
Another site talks about dialects from various parts of the USA. One of the things it talks about is that many "Mercer Countians" (from Mercer County, Pennsylvania) have droppedd the infinitive "to be" from their speech, so that, "Man, that floor really needs to be cleaned!" becomes "Man, that floor really needs cleaned!"
Kenneth G. Wilson, in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1993, says the Southern Regional Dialect, the "Southern Drawl", is actually two regional dialects, Southern and South Midland. Really, there are many, many dialects spoken throughout the USA. Katherine E. Hames says the Southern dialect has a wide variety of sub-dialects.
The "Dictionary of American Regional English " records words from throughout the USA. Click on the link marked "quizzes" and see hou you do.
The Linguist List is a resource for language and linguistics. At the bottom of the page is a link, "Ask a Linguist". I haven't checked it out, yet, so I can't offer an opinion.
Regional dialects are often considered inferior to "Standard English". Dialect words and grammar don't always conform to "Standard English", but that doesn't make them incorrect or inferior. Dialects and accents add color to language, and I hope they will always be with us.
[This message was edited by tinman on Sat Nov 1st, 2003 at 0:28.]
"Whilst"? Never. But I can distinctly remember "amongst" being used when I was a kid growing up in a suburb of New York City.
I am not from the Mid-West. (Them's fightin' words, M'am!)
I was born in South Carolina, where terms most US types would asociate with British English were common in my youth. Today I tend to use the "British" variants of the aforementioned words where it's more fluid, or where it's quicker. For example, I might say, "Whence comes this idea?" instead of "Where did that idea come from?" The latter seems awkward to me.
As for droping the verb, "to be," I hear that constantly around here (Portland, Oregon).
I direct you to a concurrent post illustrating how "between" and "among" differ.
Most British would look upon that as an affectation nowadays.
Do you distinguish the terms "between" and "among/amongst" in ordinary speech?
When something is amid precisely two other things you can only say it is "between" them (not "among" them).
But if it is amid 3 or more is only "among" permissible?
Here's Bill Bryson on the subject in Troublesome Words
Personally while I understand the difference I don't feel it is a tremendously useful distinction and given that so few people make a distinction at all nowadays, I have no problem with using the words interchangeably.
Glaubt es mir - das Geheimnis, um die größte Fruchtbarkeit und den größten Genuß vom Dasein einzuernten, heisst: gefährlich leben.
- Friedrich Nietzsche
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quote:CJ, you have just used a word that I have been thinking about recently: "M'am". Now that word definitely distinguishes you as an American and not a user of "whence" and "amongst" and "whilst". In September when I was in England, I noticed that strangers would call me "madame", pronounced, "ma DAHM". I loved it! I hate "M'am" and only tolerate "MAD um". But, "maDAHM" is so classy! Now, I am in Canada, and once again I am being called, "maDAHM."
It doesn't take a lot to please me!
When I was in elementary school, I somehow stumbled over the information that "M'am" was an abbreviation. Unfortunately, all I had was this knowledge and the abbreviation itself and not the full word "Madam."
After considerable thought, I put two and two together and got five, coming to the conclusion that "M'am" was short for "mammary glands." Even at that young age, I considered this to be a fairly rude way to address an adult woman but since this was only one of a thousand aspects of life that I didn't understand, I didn't make a fuss.
Not to turn into the Apostrophe Police, but I've always spelled it ma'am.
I just looked up "M'am" to confirm that I was correct and found that, yes, "M'am" is, in fact, a member of a Mayan people of SW Guatemala. In my original post, did I neglect to mention that I went to elementary school in Central America?
(...in other words, you're right and, once again, I'm first runner-up. Thanks much for the correction, Ma'am.)
You're quite welcome, there, podnuh. <tip of the hat>
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
Inside of a dog,
it's too dark to read.--Groucho Marx
Well, I am surprised; I would have written "m'am" as well. I did find "m'am" often in Google, though I know that doesn't mean a thing.