[DWJ] different

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu Nov 5 11:48:37 EST 2009

Melissa wrote:

>(See how I said "different from"?  I know all-y'all on the other side of the
>Atlantic say "different to" and I am always conscious of the difference when
>I say or write it.)

At a very early age in Englasnd I got quietly taught to say "different
from", and I was even given a reason for using that rather than "different

If instead of "This is different [from/to] that", you rephrase and say
"This differs [from/to] that", said my primary teacher, then one of them
makes sense, the other doesn't.  Something that differs is going away
*from* being another thing, not going *to*[wards] being it.

She didn't even mention "different than", perhaps because it didn't occur
to her that anybody said it any more than "this differs than that".  (It
does turn up in literature going back for centuries, but a lot of things in
Austen or Smollett or whoever else aren't phrased how we would phrase them
now, after all.)

It made sense to me at the time (and still does, really) and I went along
with it, and I haven't ever regretted it or found that it made what I said
difficult for anyone to understand.

Fowler in the editions of 1926 and 1965 says that preferring "different
from" is "a superstition", and that "different" followed by "to" or "from"
or "than" has been used by authors throughout the centuries, and also
trashes my dear old teacher's rationalisation about it as "involves a hasty
and ill thought out generalisation", but since the language is English, I
can't see why one word should be expected to behave just like other words
of the same class (derivatives) and I would have thought that "different"
not behaving like all the other derivatives couldn't be called a
generalisation anyhow.


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