Revisiting Wether, Incidence and Different Than

By Maeve Maddox

wether/whether
In researching the recent song lyrics post, I came across a comment written by a high school sophomore. (For the information of non-American readers, a high school sophomore is 15 or 16 years of age.) The student said she was writing a research paper on the influence of song lyrics. I certainly hope she looks up the spelling of the conjunction whether before she finishes her assignment; she used it four times in her comment, each time spelling it wether.

wether (noun): a castrated ram.
whether (conjunction): one use is to introduce an indirect alternative question expressing doubt or choice between alternatives.

More at “Wether, Weather, Whether.”

incident/incidence
NPR (National Public Radio) announcers are a rich source of nonstandard English. On a recent morning I listened to Sam Sanders report on a pediatrician who prescribes exercise to his overweight patients. One of the doctor’s techniques is to encourage patients to visit local parks. Sanders mentioned that safety is a concern. He said that one of the parks, Kingman Island, “had 30 incidences of violent crime over the past year.” The erroneous use of incidences for incidents was cleaned up in the transcript, but it can be heard in the audio (3:33).

incident (noun): something that occurs.
incidence (noun): the range or scope of a thing; the extent of its influence or effects. For example, “The incidence of poverty among the aged has consistently been higher than for any other age group in the United States.”

More at: ”It’s Not the Ox-Bow Incidence”

different from/different than/different to
A reader asks, “Is the correct usage ‘different to’ or ‘different from’? ‘Different to’ seems very common (almost universal), but surely the essence of difference is separation, not convergence, so isn’t ‘different from’ correct?”

This question comes up frequently, often with angry attacks on speakers who use the “wrong” phrase. Of the three, “different from” is by far the winner on the Ngram Viewer.

“Different to” is heard more frequently in Britain than in the United States. “Different than” has its American defenders, but the AP Stylebook comes down firmly for “from, not than.” The Chicago Manual of Style is less dogmatic, but does say, “The phrasing different from is generally preferable to different than.”

More at ”Different from, Different to, Different than.”

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4 Responses to “Revisiting Wether, Incidence and Different Than”

  • Rich Wheeler

    How interesting that the British would use “different to.” It’s so illogical. “Different than” sounds natural, but I can’t think of any examples where it would fit better.

    As for “wether (noun): a castrated ram,” I think a typical high school sophomore would respond by asking, “how do you castrate computer memory?”

  • Curtis

    Thanks for the clarification on ‘different from/to/than.’ The convergence/separation distinction makes it easier to remember. Analyzing by contrast also helps; logically, ‘different to’ makes no more sense than ‘similar from.’

    Different — removed *from*
    Similar — closer *to*

    ‘Wether’ is so rarely used (correctly, anyway) that I only recently encountered it; I put it in the category of esoteric jargon.

  • venqax

    The wether example is a perfect one of the problems that arise because the demonic influence of the so-called “whine/wine merger”.
    It is hard to imagine the young writer making that mistake if she knew that the word she intended is pronounce HWether, as opposed to Wether which is completely different word pronounced differently as well.

  • AnWulf

    Venqax is right and this highlights the muddling of the ea diagraph … is a short e as in head or long ē like ee in bead?

    I’d rather see ‘whether’ spelt as ‘hwether’ (OE hweþer, hwæþer) and ‘weather’ (OE weder) the same as the castrated ram ‘wether’ (OE weþer).

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