Solecism

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In traditional prescriptive grammar, a solecism is something perceived as a grammatical mistake or absurdity, or even a simply non-standard usage. The word was originally used by the Greeks for what they perceived as mistakes in their language. Ancient Athenians considered the dialect of the inhabitants of their colony Soli in Cilicia to be a corrupted form of their own pure Attic dialect, full of "solecisms" (Greek: σολοικισμοί, soloikismoí; Sing.: σολοικισμός, soloikismós).

Here are some examples of usages often regarded as solecisms in standard English:

  • "This is just between you and I" for "This is just between you and me" (hypercorrection to avoid the common "you and me" form in the predicate of copulative sentences, despite the fact that "me" is the standard pronoun for the object of a preposition)
  • "He ain't going nowhere" for "He isn't [or "he's not" going anywhere" or "he is going nowhere"] going anywhere" (dialectal usage; see "ain't") and double negative
  • "Whom shall I say is calling?" for "Who shall I say is calling?" (hypercorrection resulting from the perception that "whom" is a formal version of "who" or that the pronoun is functioning as an object when, in fact, it is a subject [One would say, "Shall I say he is calling?])
  • Irregardless for regardless (nonstandard usage from analogy with constructions like "irreverent," "irrespective," and "irrevocable," where the negative prefix "in-" changes to "ir-" but redundant due to "-less")
  • "The woman, she is here" for "The woman is here" (nonstandard usage with the double subject "she")
  • "She can't hardly sleep" for "She can hardly sleep" (a double negative, as both "can't" and "hardly" have a negative meaning)
  • "The issue is, is his attitude" for "The issue is his attitude" (see double copula)
  • "Substituting A for B" when the intended meaning is "substituting B for A" or "replacing A with B", i.e. "removing A and putting B in its place."
  • "I could care less" for "I could not care less" or "I couldn't care less"
  • "The reason being..." for "The reason is..."
  • "[People] have been evacuated" for "[Place] has been evacuated" (The thing {town} evacuated is that from which other things {people} depart. If people are the thing, the other things are generally considered to be feces or bodily fluids. Hence, nobody has left, but they have vomited or soiled themselves.)

What is considered a solecism in one register of a language might be acceptable usage in another. For example, "The world keeps turning for you and I" (10cc) may be more acceptable in a song (see Artistic license) than in prose.

Note that a solecism is a perceived error of syntax, while a barbarism is a perceived error of morphology.

See also

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