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If you think you know this idiom, you may have another "think" coming

Last week, we talked about how easy it can be to misinterpret an idiom, especially when a key word sounds very similar to another word.

Before we go any further, look at the following sentence and fill in the blank with the first word that comes to mind:

"Let me tell you, if you think that, you've got another ____ coming."

It’s a safe assumption that more than a few of you immediately thought “thing” when you read this, possibly before you even got to the blank. Well, unfortunately, you've got another "think" coming.

A listener named Don wrote to us to say he thinks it's interesting that "so many people sincerely believe that it's another 'thing' coming." He adds, "This makes no sense. Why would you award a 'thing' to someone for having a wrong thought?"

We readily admit we're among the "so many people" Don mentions who thought that it was “another thing coming.” We suspect we're in good company here.

However, as far as we can tell, the original idiom is "If you think ____, you've got another 'think' coming." You’re basically telling someone to think again.

The thing is, "think" makes total sense here. It's somewhat playful, since we don't use "think" as a noun very often. The Oxford English Dictionary has this usage going back to the early 19th century, including this example from 1891: "Let's have a cigar and a quiet think."

The fact that we don't generally think of "think" as a noun is probably part of the reason that many of us re-interpreted it as "thing" in this idiom. In fact, there are examples of "another thing coming" going as far back as 1897. However, Merriam-Webster has an example of “another think coming” that goes back to 1867.

Though "think" may very well be the original word used in this idiom, the version with "thing" is trending and doing quite well. Therefore, we think you can keep saying "thing" as long as you'd like.


Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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