One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Some day or someday?
A number of common words in English started out as two-word phrases and eventually became fused as single-word forms: forever, somebody, everyone.
The Oxford English Corpus shows the process continuing today. The chart below gives some examples. For instance, it shows that the phrase some time now appears as the fused single-word form sometime in 32% of all occurrences in American English and 19% of all occurrences in British English.
The tendency to fuse fixed expressions is more common in American than British English, as the graph suggests. In American English someday has now become more or less standard, substantially outnumbering occurrences of some day; anymore and underway look set to follow. Although the same trend is apparent in British English, it tends to lag behind.
Does the corpus suggest any patterns in the fusing of expressions in single words?
- Fused forms almost always emerge first in informal English (the blog and message board parts of the corpus) and are much slower to spread to more formal, edited text such as newspapers and magazines; of the examples shown here, only someday is well represented across all text types.
- Fused forms seem to spread more easily if there is a direct analogy with an existing word: anymore benefits from the analogy with anyone and anybody, whereas ofcourse (for instance) is almost non-existent because there are no comparable of- words.
- The tendency to fuse appears to be stronger when the phrase occurs at the end of a clause: 84% of instances of anymore occur at the end of a clause, compared with 46% of instances of any more.
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