Sunday, January 19, 2014

Random thoughts about "on tomorrow"

In January 2001, a correspondent from New Orleans, Louisiana, wrote to the grammar website's GrammarLogs, saying:
Recently, I have heard people at work using the phrases "on yesterday", "on tomorrow" or "on today" in their spoken language and written in memos. (i.e. I spoke to you about this on yesterday)
And the respondent from replied:
That's a new one on me! Is it a regional expression, do you think? Odd how these things crop up from time to time
Since then, there have been quite a few comments on language forums about the use by some people of "on tomorrow", "on today", "on yesterday". And most of the commenters aren't happy, saying things like: "an aurally odious phrase", "Grates on my grammar nerves", "It's nails on a chalkboard to me".
A lot of the comments suggest that those who use this expression, both in speaking and writing, are mainly Afro-American, and it seems most prevalent in the deep South, especially in Georgia and Louisiana. And it seems to be being used by educated people like teachers and junior managers, not necessarily people who use Afro-American dialect (often called AAVE - Afro-American Vernacular English), or at least, not at work. Hoewever, it should be pointed out that quite a few of the negative comments also come from Afro-Americans.
Not being American, I'm a neutral bystander on this one, but rather liking quirky expressions, I was interested to know where it had come from.
Apart from these forum comments, however, there seems to be very little about this expression on the Internet. There is a blanket dismissal at WSU Common Errors (admittedly aimed at college students), and a slightly more understanding discussion at Grammarphobia (see links below), but apart from that, very little.
But when I started poking about in Google Books, I got some rather surprising results.


Constructions like "on tomorrow" are certainly non-standard, and we don't use it in Britain, for example (as far as I know). And I would obviously advise foreign learners against using it. For native speakers, it's a different matter, though; only your own culture will tell you whether it's acceptable or not. In answer to a question about the use of "on tomorrow" etc, the writers at Grammarphobia answered:
For now, ... it’s still unusual enough to grate on most people’s ears. In the best English, we don’t hear expressions like "on tomorrow" or "on this afternoon."
And they explain that the words "today", "tonight", and "tomorrow" already include the preposition "to" (aparently meaning "on" here), as we can see from their derivations, at Online Etymology Dictionary (OE = Old English)
  • today: OE to- dæg 'on (the) day'.
  • tonight: OE toniht "tomorrow night" (Anglo-Saxon day began at sunset), from to "at, on" (see to) + niht (see night).
  • tomorrow: late 13c., to morewe, from OE to morgenne "on (the) morrow,"
  • yesterday: OE geostran dæg, from dæg "day" (see day) + geostran "yesterday,"
They were written as two separate words until about the sixteenth century and then with hyphens, as we'll see in some of our examples, before finally joining up around the beginnining of the twentieth century.
Grammarphobia also point out that the Oxford English Dictionary notes that in US and in Irish English, the preposition "on" is sometimes "used with tomorrow, yesterday, etc." – but it adds that this usage is apparently redundant.
In other words, "On tomorrow" is a bit like saying "on on tomorrow", so some objectors call the extra "on" illogical or redundant.
But Grammarphobia also point out, rightly in my opinion:
The only "rule" here is common usage. If enough of us begin using "on" with "tomorrow"” and such words, it will become an accepted idiom.
We have plenty of idiomatic expressions in English that on the face of it are illogical.

Some examples of this new usage

All the examples of this newer usage I could find at Google Books were from the 21st century.
Here are a few lines from a poem by a certain Aurora S. Threats, born in Providence, Louisiana, and educated at Grambling State University, Louisiana (historically a university for Afro-Americans) and who now lives in Texas (Dallas / Fort Worth).
On yesterday I thought of you ...
On today our love is strong ...
On tomorrow you will be
My yesterday and today

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, from Behind the Lines, Aurora Threats 2005 - [Google Books] - [Google]
Mind you, she's in good company; this is from Shakespeare's Henry V, Act 3 Scene VI, King Henry is speaking [Google]
We are in God's hand, brother, not in theirs.
March to the bridge, it now draws toward night;
Beyond the river we'll encamp ourselves,
And on to-morrow bid them march away.
It has to be said though: this is the only example in the whole of Shakespeare, and I couldn't find any other examples from classic literature, although, as we'll see, I did find examples of "on tomorrow" from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from standard English.

A church connection?

The examples I found were mainly from creative writing, much of it self-published. Where possible I've tried to check on the background (ethnicity and geographical location) of the author. One thing that struck me was how many of them were pastors or introduced their books as being religiously inspired. Could this expression have come from use in churches, I wonder?
  • How do you know what will happen on tomorrow?
    A Journey to Hell and Back, 2003, Charlotte Russell Johnson
    [Bio at Amazon] - [Google Books] - [Google]

    Afro-American pastor, graduate of Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia

  • Today we reflect on yesterday and hold out hope for tomorrow. Today, tomorrow is a mystery. On tomorrow, today will be a memory. Today is full of options and opportunities, and anticipation for tomorrow.
    Amazing Organism, Amazing Grace, 2003, Steve A. Rush - [Google]
  • Every Saturday, after I finish sweeping the floors, I do my washing, my clothes and Manong Julian's, than on tomorrow I iron them, after I come back from church
    Tomorrow's Memories: A Diary, 1924-1928, 2003 - [Google]

    A Fillipino living in Hawaii

  • Joan now has an appointment at 1:45 PM on tomorrow.
    Living Through Cancer: A Story of Love and Caregiving, 2005, Kenneth Dickson (Florida?) - [Google]
  • On Tomorrow, saturated dead bodies of his mighty army, his storm troopers, will be washed upon the dripping shores of the Red Sea
    The Day, 2008, Dr Robert E. Owens Snr, Dr Robertha R. Owens - [Google]

    Evangelistic pastors, Accokeek, Maryland

  • ... one night the lord told amid, amid on tomorrow i want you to take your handle and pounder the earth three times but pounder it sideways on the west side of the earth
    Collection of Short Stories, 2010, Minister Donna Rowland-Harrison - [Google]
  • In my soul, walking by your side on tomorrow would be the closest I will ever be to bind close or lasting ties with you
    Tears of Deception, 2010, Patrick Pierre - [Google]

    From Haiti, has lived in the USA for thirty years; avowed Christian, has connections with a Baptist church in Society Hill, South Carolina

  • She really wanted to see Vincent and hold him. She thought about seeing him on tomorrow after he got off work.
    The Downward Spiral; Beginnings and Endings, 2010, Leonard Kreger II (Chicago) - [Google]
  • Upon returning to our hotel, we lounged in the lobby for some time, enjoying the beautiful music of the piano player and songstress, before making our way to our room, to prepare for embarkation on tomorrow
    The Vagabonds, 2011, P. Paul Provost - [Google Books - 10 examples] - [Google]

    Afro-American, he grew up in French Town, in Houston, Texas, whose population were mainly Creoles from Louisiana - in the Introduction he stresses his Christian convictions

Some surprising results at Google Books

When I started looking in Google Books, I found something unexpected: that there were quite a few examples of "on tomorrow" from the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. It seemed to be used especially in legislative assemblies, both in the United States and Britain, most examples coming from the period 1800-1840, but there are a few later examples of this use, and even one from the US Congress from 1959.
But even if this was a specifically legal usage, there are other non-legislative examples, from what could be called 'educated sources'.
I looked at certain periods at Google Books (listed and linked to below), checking the first five pages for each period (and ten for 2000-2014).

From 18th and 19th century legislatures

  • "Mr. Speaker then put the question, which was agreed to — " that on tomorrow se'night the house resolve itself into a committee of the whole house, to take into consideration the state in ?which the impeachment of Warren Hastings, esq. late ..."
    British House of Commons, quoted in The Town and Country Magazine, London, 1790 - [Google Books]
  • the necessary accounts would all be ready, and on tomorrow fortnight, if nothing happened to prevent it, he would bring them forward
    British House of Commons, quoted in Debrett 1792 - [Google Books]
  • That the said Day of Publick Thanks- giving be strictly and solemnly kept and observed in all Churches and Chapels within England and Wales, on Tomorrow-fortnight, being Wednesday the Twenty-ninth of August instant
    British House of Commons 1803 - [Google]
  • in consideration of some important matter being proposed by a noble friend of his for Monday, he should propose to be on tomorrow se'nnight
    British House of Lords 1805 - [Google]
  • "Mr. Keller gave notice, that on tomorrow he would ask leave to bring in a bill to incorporate the stockholders of the Bank of Circleville"
    Ohio House of Representatives 1816 [Google Books]
  • ... and were informed by the lieutenant governor that he would make a communication in, writing, by way of message, to both branches of the legislature, in their respective chambers, on tomorrow at twelve o'clock
    Kentucky General Assembly 1817 [Google]
  • Mr. Tait gave notice that he should, on tomorrow, ask leave to bring in a bill to authorize the President of the United States to purchase the lands reserved by the act of the 3d of March, 1817
    The National Register 1819 [Google]
  • Mr. Speaker-We propose that the two houses at their meeting on tomorrow morning, proceed to ballot for a Public Printer for the ensuing year
    North Carolina General Assembly 1819 - [Google]
  • Mr. OAKLEY now gave notice that he should, on tomorrow, move to discharge the Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union
    United States Congress 1828 - [Google]
  • We propose, with your concurrence, to invite his Excellency the Governor, to attend in the Senate Chamber on tomorrow evening, at seven o'clock, to sign and seal the Laws passed at the present session of the General Assembly.
    Maryland General Assembly 1829 - [Google]
  • After some time, The committee rose the chairman reported progress and the committee of the whole obtained leave to sit again on tomorrow
    Pennsylvania General Assembly 1830 - [Google]
  • "On motion of Mr. Morris, Ordered, That the committee of Privileges and Elections take into consideration on tomorrow, the contested election from the county of Patrick."
    Virginia House of Delegates 1830 - [Google]
  • Mr. POLK rose and notified the House that he would on tomorrow ask them to proceed to the consideration of the bill reported from the Committee of Ways and Means
    United States Congress 1834 - [Google]
  • "Which was read the first time, and passed to a second reading on tomorrow."
    Indiana House of Representatives 1836 [Google Books] - [Archive]
  • "Mr. Read gave notice that he will on tomorrow or next day introduce a bill in relation to the Florida peninsula and Jacksonville and the Union Rail Road companies"
    Florida Legislative Council 1836 [Google Books]
  • ... from the joint committee of the two Houses, appointed to take into consideration the propriety of reporting a system of county and township government, made the following report, which was laid on the table to be taken up on tomorrow
    Wisconsin Legislative Assembly 1837 - [Google]
  • "Mr. Ruttan gives notice that he will, on tomorrow, move that a select committee of five members be appointed to inquire ..."
    Upper Canada House of Assembly 1839 [Google Books]
  • Mr. Bailey then gave notice that he would, on tomorrow afternoon, call up the above motion to reconsider for the purpose of having the motion laid before the House for consideration
    Texas House of Representatives 1899 - [Google Books]
  • Let me say that if the Senator from Texas wishes to hold a session on tomorrow, Saturday, we shall be perfectly willing to be here then
    United States Congree 1959 - [Google Books]

Not all are from legislatures - these are from the USA

  • in the evening I recved a note from Capt L — by Shannon informing me that he Should Set out early on tomorrow morning and Should proceed up to the bason 2 miles below the Skillute ...
    Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1806 - [Google]
  • and would be glad to see us, and exchange copies of our powers, at their lodgings on tomorrow at 1 o'clock
    Letter from Henry Clay re: Treaty of Ghent 1814 - [Google]
  • On tomorrow eleven more are to receive the ordinance
    The Religious Intelligencer 1822
  • ... and that his funeral would be attended on tomorrow from the senate chamber, at 11 o'clock in the forenoon
    Niles' Weekly Register 1822 - [Google]
  • Sir : The issuing of rations to the Indians will commence on tomorrow morning.
    Treaty with the Creeks at Indian Springs 1825 - [Google]
  • There is no objection now on the part of either mother or daughter, and, on tomorrow evening, I shall 'become the happy possessor of Lucy's hand?'
    Illinois Monthly Magazine 1831 - [Google]
  • Again, after having been informed that Hubert travels on tomorrow's eve, thinly guarded, with all his treasure, for a distant province, this prince of cut-throats thus resumes his fury
    The American Quarterly Review 1833 - [Google]
  • As a compensation for the disappointments experienced and damages sustained in consequence of my failure to fulfil my engagement at the St. Charles Theatre, I do hereby agree to act the character of Richard the Third on tomorrow night, gratuitously for Ludlow and Smith
    Junius Brutus Booth 1844-5, quoted in Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prometheus, Stephen M. Archer - [Google Books] - [Google]

A few are from Britain

  • I am therefore to tell you, that all of you, except Daniel Callaghan, must undergo execution on tomorrow, and that he will suffer upon Monday next
    Trial for High Treason, London 1822 - [Google]
  • Oh! that the same voice might announce the same happy tidings (o. me, this day ! how willingly and how joyfully would I, on tomorrow's evening, lay my head on the pillow, and say to my divine master ...
    Reprt of a religious discussion, Birmingham 1827 - [Google]
  • "One of the most remarkable features of acute rheumatism is this metastasis of inflammation ; you have one joint attacked to-day, on tomorrow it will be quite free from disease"
    London Medical and Surgical Journal, 1833 - [Google]

A couple are from Ireland

There's a suggestion at the Oxford English Dictionary that this could also be Irish.
  • "On to-morrow I will brave the storm, whether successfully or not, is doubtful"
    The University Magazine, Dublin, 1788 - [Google]
  • "Tell Gerard Douw ... that Minheer Vandehousen, of Rotterdam, wishes to speak with him on to-morrow evening at this hour"
    Schalken the Painter, from Ghostly Tales, 1851, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu - [Google]
  • Our vintage is to commence on tomorrow, and every thing seems to promise a happy and successful harvest.
    Letter from France to a gentleman in the South of Ireland 1788 - [Google Books]

A few are from the twentieth Century

  • We leave after the Clans' first performs on tomorrow evening
    Nemamlom, Corina Lanemann, David Blanchard 1911 - [Google]
  • They were waiting for tomorrow, until Fire Service came out for two-platoons not on tomorrow but today
    Fire Protection Service 1921 - [Google]
  • All of your dreams of today shall come true, They shall come true on tomorrow
    The Mellow Year: A Man's Songs of Friendship, James William Foley 1921 [Google] - [Google Books]
  • Today we look upward, tomorrow look down; Today do our best, on tomorrow our worst
    The Human Touch, Carleton Everett Knox 1922 - [Google]
  • If, on tomorrow the forces of hell are seen in France or Mexico
    The World Tomorrow, Norman Thomas, John Nevin Sayre, Anna Rochester 1927 - [Google Books]

Some ambiguous ones, with bring, come on etc

  • The Names of the Attendants on the Bill against Traiisportation of Money (which is to be sat on Tomorrow, at Two in the Afternoon) were read
    British House of Lords 1620 - [Google]
  • No business on to-morrow can be done; to-morrow's Sunday; you may snore till noon;
    Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review 1735 - [Google Books]
  • Your Hint of the Removal of the Congress to some place nearer to you will come on tomorrow.
    Letters from Benjamin Harrison to George Washington 1775 - [Google]
  • "as their trial will come on tomorrow"
    George Washington 1778 - [Google Books]
  • upon which he intended to make a motion for the recall of Mr Hastings, governor-general of Bengal, which he would bring on tomorrow
    The Scots Magazine 1782 - [Google Books]
  • Sir S. Romilly withdrew his amendment, on the understanding, that if the second reading of the bill could not come on tomorrow before a late hour, it would be postponed.
    Hansard British Parlaimentary Drebates 1818 - [Google]
  • The surgeon has advised him to wait the night, and come on tomorrow
    The King's Passport, H. Bedford-Jones, 1928 - [Google] - [Google Books]

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