Saturday, August 27, 2011

What there's no accounting for

A few days ago, I wrote,
"Here I am back trying to place a word in the right box, or boxes as it may be. I'm not really sure why I find this kind of work so engaging, but I suppose there's no accounting for taste."
My aunt, an editor by trade and vocation, queried the singularity of taste.
The cliche has tastes, which I've taken to mean: varieties of tastes, why you like one thing and I another. Taste sounds more general; we now have to account for the existence of taste itself -- why do we fancy (or dislike) things that don't affect our survival.

Or am I nit-picking again?
That makes sense. But the sense of an idiom is often hard to fathom, so let's go counting! Here are the relative the frequencies:

I wonder why, after more than 200 years of inferiority, the singular form has suddenly taken the lead. The OED has only the plural form from 1823, and asks us to compare the Latin de gustibus non est disputandum, but the English Wiktionary has only the singular. I can antedate the OED version to 1795., meanwhile, claims, "first put as no disputing about tastes." I suppose, this is possible, but they both seem to appear at very much the same time. The earliest I could find this attested was 1785, a mere 10 years before the more common version.

So there are three versions of the proverbial phrase. Can you account for your preference?

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I prefer "There's no accounting for taste." I take it as implying "There's no accounting for [one's own] taste" or "There's no accounting for [one's] taste in [books/music/etc.]. I would say, "She has good taste in clothes," not "She has good tastes in clothes."