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While Meant

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My 1980 printing of The Compact Edition of the OED lists “mean time” and “meantime” together in the same entry, then does the same for “mean while” and “meanwhile.” For “Mean time, meanwhile,” OED provides an introductory bracketed note: “[Properly two words . . . and still often so written . . .]” and points to “Mean time, meantime,” which repeats the bracketed comment, in that instance clarifying that the “often so written” applies “in the phrases, less frequently when used alone . . . .” After only 35 years, is my OED lagging so much on this one? They were still often writing each of the terms out as separate pairs; mean while most writers were already making the merge. (In the mean time, I’ll overlook whether anyone was bothering to consider “mean while” as one word so spoken, mean while often still treating the term as two words so written.)

By all means, let’s separate the words, at least to help us distinguish that “meanwhile” used by Garner’s third clarification. For in each of the bracketed comments to both terms in OED, that ellipsis I’ve given after “Properly two words” distinguishes the two separate words, in each case specifically pointing to a particular OED definition for “mean”: “Intermediate in time; coming between two points in time or two events; intervening.” That OED definition for “mean” then points out that this sense of mean is “now only in phrases in the mean time, while” (curiously, then writing “meantime” and “meanwhile” each as single words in its cross reference back). OED notes that “mean” in this sense used to also be paired with other similar references, such as “in the mean season.”

Thing is, although all this background seems to be carrying a bit of rust along with it, of the OED’s aeverbial definitions for “mean time, meantime” or “mean while, meanwhile” and any of the adverbial phrases involving either of those terms all seem to carry that sense of happening within some period of time intervening between two moments or events. That is, if you are snacking as you are reading this, then you are snacking “meanwhile” . . . although I’ll come back to yet another distinction there. Meanwhile (here, using the term as Garner’s third clarification used it), if you wait to snack until after you have had enough of this post, then you will not be eating “meanwhile,” rather more like after a while.

But what then, Garner, with starting off your third clarification with “Meanwhile, …”? Of what intervening time do we speak? Ah, here we want “mean time, meantime” definition A.1.b. (which “mean while, meanwhile” definition A.1.c. cross-references): “Used (like at the same time, etc.) in adversative or concessive sense : While this is true; still, nevertheless.” Except then OED adds the following, simply dangling on its own after the definition’s period, with no explanation: “? Obs.

Which does seem more along the lines of what Garner means with his “Meanwhile, . . .” launching his third clarification: “While this is true (that ‘meantime’ can be used solo), ‘meantime’ should not begin a sentence.” That sense apparently coming to us via some migration via “at the same time,” in the sense that both things can be true at the same time. The mathematical logician in me aches for some better precision to this, particularly since even Garner seems to want to suggest a tighter connection than mere co-existence. After all, it’s not merely that “‘meantime’ solo is ok” and at the same time “‘Meantime’ beginning a sentence is not ok.” Rather, we want a more direct connection than seems implied: “‘Meantime’ may be used solo, except when beginning a sentence.” (Ummmm, except when done as I just did, which doesn’t use it as an adverb . . .)

Meanwhile, are we having fun yet?

//] - so to speak


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Written by macheide

16 April 2015 at 5:23 pm

Posted in so to speak

Tagged with ,


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