Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rethinking rethink

A student (college-level native speaker of English) writes, "It is time to rethink the path society is on." Something in my brain went sproing when I read this. Well, not really sproing, more like twing. Anyhow, when I went over it again, path just didn't feel quite right.

I ran it by my family who were enjoying the weekend while I wade through this pile of papers. My brother found it unremarkable, but my mother immediately rephrased it as "rethink where society is going". It then occurred to me that rethink seems to have a different set of complements from think. After some googling and corpus searches, I'm confident that this is so.

You'd never say, "*think your plans/policy/approach", but "rethink your plans/policy/approach" is fine. It seems that, for whatever reason, rethink now patterns with reconsider rather than think. I wonder when that happened or if it has been thus since it came into the language around 1700. I wish I had access to the OED from home. [Now that I'm back at work with access to the OED, I find that rethink has been transitive from its earliest recored use.]


The Ridger, FCD said...

Wow. From its earliest use?

I often wonder if people complained about usage back then the way they do now.

Harry Styron said...

Some people that I work with say they will "double-check" a fact, after I point out that a fact appears dubious, implying that nobody has checked it. Agreeing to double-check, like to rethink, exculpates the sayer from admitting not having previously thought or checked. Also, it seems fine to say, "I'll think it through," but not to say "I'll think it."