When someone has a bad idea, do you say they have "another think coming" or "another thing coming"?
A listener named John called in with a question about "another thing coming" versus "another think coming":
“Hey, Grammar Girl. This is John. I've enjoyed your podcast for several years, but I don't think you've ever address this critical issue that I have. Recently, my 20-something daughter and I had a conversation, and I remarked that “If you believe that you have another thing coming,” to which she replied, “No, dad, the expression is ‘You have another think coming.’” I laughed and told her that she was the victim of either of mondegreen or an eggcorn, but that her interpretation was clearly wrong. We agreed to disagree, and later I searched online for her foolish version only to find out that it is indeed acceptable. Can you please explain how such a travesty can be allowed to stand? Thanks.”
This made me laugh, John. Good for you for admitting your error, although you’ll see that you are not alone.
The older and more common phrase, at least in edited text, is “another think coming.” And although the two phrases seem about equally common in American English, with “think” barely edging out “thing” in a Google Ngram search, “You’ve got another think coming” is much more common in British English, where the saying actually originated in the late 1800s.
It showed up just a bit later in the United States. (Note that when you click through, none of the earliest examples included in the graph are of the phrase about “another think/thing coming.” They are along the lines of “There is another thing coming for you in the mail.”)
"You've got another think coming" often follows a clause that describes a bad, annoying, or wrong "think." For example, I might say, “If you think I'm going bungee jumping, you have another think coming.”
Here’s the oldest American example I could find in a Google News Archive search. It’s from 1897 from The Daily Argus News, which was published in Crawfordsville, Indiana. It reads:
“Having elected him[,] republicans think they have some voice in the distribution of the spoils[,] and there is where they have another think coming to them.”
People hearing “thing” instead of “think” could be described as an eggcorn if you think the word “thing” makes sense in the phrase, since an eggcorn is a mistake based on a mishearing that actually makes sense, like hearing “eggcorn” instead of acorn” for the oak tree seed. In this case, hearing “thing” instead of “think” seems to have started as far back as the early 1900s, and an unfortunate error in 1982 may have added to the confusion: The band Judas Priest (which is British, by the way) got the bad-idea “think" lead-in right, but then they got the next line and song title wrong in their big hit "You've Got Another Thing Coming”:
If you think I'll let it go, you're mad [There’s the bad thought!]
You've got another thing comin'
That song likely increased the popularity of the “another thing coming” version, and it actually does look like both versions of the phrase became more popular in the early '80s, especially in the United States. And even though the “think” version still wins in edited text, multiple sources say the “another thing coming” version is generally more common today, at least in American English.
So John, your daughter was right, as you’ve already graciously acknowledged, but you do have a lot of company in believing that the “thing” version is right.
Thanks for the call.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.