Other, Another and “A Whole Nuther”

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Joan writes:

So often I hear people use the word “nuther” when they mean “other”. Like in “that’s a whole nuther story.”How did this happen?

First, I don’t think that the word “nuther/nother” is being substituted for the word “other” in this expression. Rather, the word “whole” is being inserted between elements of the word another: a-whole-nother.

It could be jocular usage, or it could be an example of metanalysis:

The reinterpretation of the form of a word resulting in the creation of a new word; esp. the changing of the boundaries between words or morphological units.

Our word apron, for example, used to be napron, but speakers hearing the words “a napron” thought they were hearing “an apron.” The same thing happened with auger, adder and umpire. Working in the other direction, what we call “a newt” used to be “an ewt(e).”

Some speakers may try to “correct” a whole nuther story to the ungrammatical a whole other story with the result that the latter may become a common usage.

As to how it happened–

“A whole nuther/nother story” has caught on because people who hear it like it.

It also fits the patterns of English speech. The OED, for example, offers several uses of nother, most of them obsolete, but the word has a long history in the language.

The Old English word oþer meant “a second of two.” The merger of an (one) with other is documented from 1225.

Another is different from the other:

another refers indefinitely to any further member of a series of indeterminate extent.

the other points to the remaining determinate member of a known series of two or more.

I don’t think “a whole nuther” belongs in the speech or writing of news announcers or journalists who have a responsibility to adhere to standard usage, but its informal use in conversation doesn’t pain my grammar nerve.

On the other hand, as blogger Dan Myers points out, if we use such constructions in jest, they will eventually come out of our mouths in earnest.

“What’s a Napron?” – an article of mine that appeared long ago in Highlights for Children.

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10 thoughts on “Other, Another and “A Whole Nuther””

  1. This is something that I have wondered about for a while. I have always used “nuther” in speech and concluded that it was elision as part of some regional usage I inherited from my parents. (One was from eastern Washington state, the other from Oklahoma. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and don’t hear it that often from other people.) It’s really hard to say “a whole another thing”—and it sounds pretty weird! No wonder we try to “correct” it to “a whole other thing.”

    Do you have any sense of who uses it and who doesn’t? I’ve recently become rather self-conscious about it, so at least now I know I’m not a total freak!

  2. I’m one of those who don’t use “nuther.” Grammatically, I know it’s harmless, it’s just that there are people who think that’s a real word, that’s what bothers me. Oh well.

  3. Kristi,
    “A whole another thing” is not the way to go. As you say, it sounds pretty weird. That’s because it’s not idiomatic.

    I think that “a whole nother thing” can be translated as “another thing entirely” or “another thing altogether.”

  4. I believe that the phrase “a whole ‘nother” is in fact an excellent example of a tmesis, the figure of speech in which a word or phrase is split (the word comes from the Greek for cutting) by another word that serves to make the original more emphatic. The most common examples generally involve profanity or almost-profanity: abso-freakin’-lutely, for instance.

    “A whole ‘nother” is abso-freakin’-lutely my favorite example of tmesis.

  5. Ah, PF beat me to it. I had “A whole ‘nother” down as just another example of t-freakin’-mesis too 😉

  6. It would be a nice tmesis, but I really don’t think it is.
    If it was, people would pronounce it “a-whole-nother” as in “acorn” or “a-hole” 🙂 instead of “a whole nother” as in “away” or “a hole”. I think the latter is more common, or at least earlier. Although, if some people do pronounce it in the former way, then it’s a tmesis for them 🙂

    The elision hypothesis is interesting, but I would support the metanalysis hypothesis – I can imagine it being born colloquially in the fashion of “That’s an( )other thing, a whole ‘nother thing”.

    “A whole another” with two articles would be illogical – “a whole other” feels more “correct” (but still colloquial). For formal use, I would recommend Maeve’s “another thing entirely” or “another thing altogether” 🙂

  7. Tmesis isn’t proper English grammar. It was a proper part of ancient Greek grammar. However even in Greek it required the inclusion of a verb so I don’t see why “a whole nother” would qualify as a tmesis. But people just dying to justify “a whole nother” always look up and then use tmesis. In English speaking societies use tmesis primarily as a way to make something humorous. But it’s never been proper grammar.

  8. I think this has been around long enough that it now qualifies as proper grammar. Remember, usage dictates grammar rules, not the other way around. Once enough people start using a certain word/phrase, it becomes grammatically acceptable.

    However, your words always will show what kind of person you are. We judge people who say “ain’t” differently than people who say “is not.” Similarly, we’ll just those who say “a whole nother” differently than we judge those who say “an entirely different thing.” Some will say that the “ain’t”/”a whole nother” people are more authentic; others will say that they are less educated. Depends on your perspective…but it doesn’t make the phrase grammatically unacceptable.

  9. While working today, I needed to ask this question: “are you going to give me another complete draft or only the element I need to change in the previous draft.” The phrase “another complete draft” could just as easily be expressed colloquially as “a whole nother draft.” In this case, both elements are required — “whole” as in complete and “nother” as in “another” or “a different” item. This usage is a little different than the more common usage that equates simply to an emphatic “different.”

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