Wednesday, March 25, 2009

WNW: How Come?

Quick announcement: This Saturday I'll be at two book signings in Utah County. Check the sidebar for details.

On to Word Nerd Wednesday:

Friend, closet word nerd (don't deny it), and Whitney President Rob Wells asked why in the world we sometimes say, "How come?" when we're really asking, "Why?"

On the surface, "how come" really makes no sense, does it?

I had no idea whatsoever, so I did a little digging.

I discovered some consensus that "how come" is a shortened version of, "How did it come to be?"

Which, you know, actually makes some sense.

Similarly, Shakespeare used "How comes it" several times (such as in Comedy of Errors and Hamlet).

Supporting Shakespeare's way of thinking is one source I found that claims German and Dutch have a similar phrase hearkening to, "how did it come to be." (I don't know either language, so I'll have to take his word for it.)

However, The Word Detective says that the actual phrase, "how come" didn't come around until the mid-1800s in the U. S. My Oxford English Dictionary agrees, saying it turned up in print around 1848.

The Word Detective goes on to explain that "how come" uses "come" in the sense of something happening, such as, "Come next July, we're going to Disneyland."

Then you add "how" as an adverb, which asks, "in which way," and you get "how come."

Basically, "How come" means, "in which way did that happen/is it going to happen?"

The same article notes that:

Unlike “why,” “how come” strongly suggests that the questioner has already developed an opinion on the situation and has decided that something is not proper or fair.

Examples abound for anyone who has at least two offspring. ("How come SHE gets a cookie?!")

As with many words and phrases, there's ongoing debate on whether "how come" is correct in standard English. I've seen it enough in print that I think it's pretty much accepted in most circles, with some academics being the last to say it's not correct.

Surprisingly, however, I don't have a strong opinion either way.

(Me? Not have an opinion? Quick! Call Ripley's!)

Today's tour stops:

Rarely Home Mom
Queen of the Clan


Kristina P. said...

This is one of those phrases that I've never thought was correct to use.

Alyson | New England Living said...

This was so interesting! I love hearing the history of how words or phrases come to be.

By the way, I'm having a hard time with affect/effect. Sometimes I really have to think hard about which one to use. Any quick tips?

Heatherlyn said...

That's cool. It makes perfect sense. Although, the way Shakespear says it sounds so much more eloquent. :)

Rebecca Irvine said...

This one used to bother me a lot. However, my husband has used it so much over the years I have even caught myself using it now and then. I guess if you can't beat them, join them.

Lara Neves said...

Thank you! I have always wondered about this one. I use it often enough, but every once in a while I'd stop and think about how it made absolutely no sense, even though it's so often used we all know what it means.

LisAway said...

This phrase has always made sense to me for the very reasons you cite here. I think it means I'm extremely smart.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Fascinating as always!

wendy said...

HOW COME I never knew that??

Jan said...

Have fun at your signings Annette.

Anonymous said...

No opinion?! My world is shaken!

This was very interesting! I love the link for the word detective. Ah...more nerdiness to love. =]

Melanie Jacobson said...

It really scares me that I have ever had the same thought as Robison Wells.

Larsens said...

We have a similar thing in Finnish: Kuinka niin? Or in slang "Kuin nii". A lot of people use it instead of "miksi".

Jordan McCollum said...

I saw your name on the sign by the door as I was leaving Seagull book earlier this afternoon—I was so excited! I'll definitely be there!

Annette Lyon said...

I hadn't remembered "kuinka niin," in Finnish, but you're right--it's similar--sort of, "how so?" (Right?)

Jordan--Yay! I'll be looking forward to meeting you in person!

MelanieJ--No kidding. :D

Kathy P said...

Love WNW!!!

Good luck at the signings!

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

I loved this! I don't notice if I say it now, but I used to as a kid. That bit of trivia is really interesting.

Mikki said...

So interesting to find out how phrases or words came about.

Will you be doing any book signings in Las Vegas?

Alison Wonderland said...

So that's how it came to be hunh? Good to know.

Rebecca Blevins said...

As soon as I saw you say it I stopped reading to see if I could guess. (I love word games!) I guessed it had something to do with how something comes to be, ie "How comes it?"

Interesting on how it does have the connotation of a person already having an opinion.

I love WNW! And I hope your signings go fabulously!

An Ordinary Mom said...

Thanks for the explanation!


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