June 18, 2015

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Why I’m against amongst!

Posted in among/amongst at 6:04 am by dlseltzer

I read two proposals last weekend (such is my life), and BOTH used ‘amongst’ when they should have used ‘among.’ BOTH! This is what I have to say about that:

CUT IT OUT!

We’ve had this discussion before, and I want this time to be the last. Okay?

Oh dear, I have to put off my scintillating discussion of numbers and numerals yet another week, but I can’t let this one go. Here’s the scoop. You’re in America, darn it. (My apologies to my non-American readers, but this is for my faculty!) Even more, you are American! Now, I don’t say this with any special air of pride or patriotism. I’m just stating a fact, and the fact is this: in America, we should use American English. (You can see where I’m going with this.) And ‘amongst’ is not American English. It is British English and is used commonly in the UK. If we were in England now, I would be admonishing you about not using ‘among.’ But we are not, and instead I am admonishing you not to use ‘amongst.’ Not that it is not a perfectly fine word, in the UK it’s perfectly acceptable.

I don’t know why our countries diverged with respect to language usage, why we adopted ‘amid’ while they continued to use ‘amidst,’ but I’m sure it was nothing personal. Garner says that ‘amongst’ sounds pretentious to the American ear. He says the same thing about ‘whilst.’ (Please, please, please promise me you will never ever use ‘whilst’ in your writing. ‘Amongst’ makes me crazy, but ‘whilst’ has me completely totally mad as a hatter out of my mind.) Did I make that clear enough? Anyway, pretentiousness is another good reason to not use ‘amongst.’ But you shouldn’t need another reason—it’s America, dammit. Use American English!

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