Friday, March 29, 2013

How I dealt to checking a New Zealand idiom

The prepositions that most commonly follow the verb deal are with and in, depending on meaning. In fact these collocations are so common, that deal with and deal in are often treated as phrasal verbs (or sometimes, prepositional verbs), for example at the OALD (scroll down to Phrasal Verbs). But it appears that in one corner of the English-speaking world, at least, deal with has a competitor.
A commenter on the language blog Pain in the English had noticed this sentence in the New Zealand Herald:
“Perhaps it’s time to deal to the ads that are just plain downers?”
Of course, there's no logical reason why deal should be followed by with. After all, we have the very similar expression see to - If you deal with the soup, I'll see to the main course. But with is what we're used to, so anything else sounds a bit odd.

Not finding any mention of deal to in my usage guides, New Fowler's (British), Merriam-Webster (American) and Swan (EFL), I googled "it's time to deal to" and got a few hits, mainly from New Zealand URLs and posted a comment saying that it did indeed seem to be a New Zealand usage. Another commenter pointed out, however, that a handful of hits "hardly bespeaks a well established usage" and suggested that they could just be grammatical errors or typos. But it seemed a bit strange to me that all these "errors" should be made in New Zealand, so I had a bit more of a dig around.
I tried to think what words collocate with deal with, and came up with need to deal with, necessary to deal with and want to deal with, and tried googling again, substituting to for with. This time I got quite a few more results, including from various organisations connected with the news, politics, the environment etc.
But this method was a bit haphazard; what I needed was something a bit more systematic. The obvious thing would be to check with a New Zealand dictionary. There is one online, but it's refusing to open for me, and anyway, that would spoil the fun.

Finding collocations

Luckily, there are a few free tools on the Internet for finding collocations (I'll be writing more about these very soon). By visiting I found the most common collocation was "have to deal with", followed by "how to deal with", see here. I tried googling these but got quite a bit of "noise" (irrelevant entries like "deal to some extent with"), so I refined it by adding nz, and Hey Presto!, there were lots of entries from New Zealand. So I then tried it for the twenty or so most common collocations. Example sentences are given for each collocation. Click on the collocations on the left to see the search results
have to deal toIt's one of the many things we have to deal to after this storm event
how to deal toHow to deal to workplace stress
had to deal toHowever there's been a few odds and sods i've had to deal to manually
way to deal toThey've found a way to deal to the big problems
able to deal toIt would be good to be able to deal to some of these issues before they happen
having to deal toas well as having to deal to any complaints
has to deal toThe National Party knows it has to deal to this issue
want to deal towe want to deal to the culture of welfare dependency
need to deal toThen, there's those jobs you need to deal to if you're going to keep the dog
hope to deal toLib Dems hope to deal to drug laws
ability to deal toand by joining us you give FNZ the ability to deal to industry
ways to deal toWhat are possible effective ways to deal to these problems for Christchurch?
order to deal to In order to deal to the waves of incoming rogues, Batman and his offspring can punch their way clear using a basic attack
trying to deal toThe weekend protests about Housing New Zealand's Tamaki .... is trying to deal to a raft of problems
easy to deal tohe found it easy to deal to secondary school teachers
difficult to deal toor perhaps someone who's drunk, just being rude or is very difficult to deal to
prepared to deal toand we should be prepared to deal to it when it does
time to deal toit's a good time to deal to weeds on your property or road frontage

Then I was surprised a great to deal!

Some strange things happened when I googled "great to deal to", because here it mainly came up with deal as a noun, but a noun which has grown a preceding to, for some reason. There are enough examples of this to presume that this is another New Zealand idiom (click to see):

Using Google Site search

Another way of looking for expressions in context is to look them up on particular sites using Google's site facility, see here for details). I got a list of the most popular newspapers, media organisations and blogs from Wikipedia, and tried site searches for "to deal to". With one, Skysport, I had to knock off the first to, but apart from one (TVNZ) they all came up with plenty (perhaps hundreds) of hits (just click on the links to see). They are, however, totally outnumbered by the more usual "to deal with".
New Zealand Herald Radio New Zealand
Dominion Post TV New Zealand
The Press
Waikato Times
Bay of Plenty Times (deal to)
Gisborne Herald New Zealand Parliament
So deal to something / somebody does indeed seem to be an established idiom in New Zealand, although still vastly outnumbered by deal with. If any new Zealanders happen to stumble on this, perhaps they could let us know its status, and to what extent it's used.

A few more examples

  • So what if someone feels uncomfortable about the truth, we need to deal to the problems -NZ Herald
  • prevention is what we need to deal to heart disease. -Gisborne Herald, NZ
  • gone on for long enough and we need to deal to it -Kaipara District Council, NZ
  • And we need to deal to address some of the challenges posed by a changing society -NZ Department of Health
  • So we need to deal to it [pruning the over-growth] or there will be no fruit next year.
  • .. undermine Auckland's progress to become an internationally-competitive, attractive city to live, work and invest, and which we need to deal to,” says Mr Barnett ...
  • So to `clean up' Zimbabwe it will be necessary to deal to the Army Generals as well as Mugabe
  • In New Zealand they are being labeled as lazy, untrustworthy and grasping and draconian legislation is necessary to deal to them -NZ Greens blog
  • RSA locals want to deal to attacker -NZ Online News
  • Third, we want to deal to the culture of welfare dependency -Act.Org.NZ
  • If we want to deal to crime, we must deal to the gangs -John Carter, (NZ) MP
  • In this news-hungry world, where we always want to deal to those who are ... Chester Borrows speaking to the NZ Parliamentary select committee -NZ Hansard (official parliamentary record)
  • If you want to deal to it on a larger scale, spray with lime sulphur in winter when the tree is dormant -NZ Institute of Horticulture


That online Dictionary finally opened for me, but said nothing about deal to. And nor do any of the web pages I've seen devoted to New Zealand slang and expressions. All very strange!

New Zealand Slang and Colloquialisms


Clarissa said...

Thanks for your excellent post. I was wondering why kiwis said "deal to", especially in media contexts. I thought it was slang and it sounds odd. It's really helpful that you've gone to all this effort to round up the history and examples of its use here. Thank you for a very well researched and useful post!

Warsaw Will said...

Thank you. It was fun doing it. Do you hear it much? Is it more in the media than in normal conversation?

Clarissa said...

I haven't heard it much spoken, but maybe I haven't been in the right context for it to be used! I've heard it on and read it most in the media, including TV (Shortland Street ad) and news, the online news sites, etc. It jumps out at me as unusual probably because I'm not from NZ originally but have lived here for quite a few years now. I suspect the work you did to compile all these instances of its use will be enjoyed by more readers over time, as I couldn't find any other discussion of it. And I'll definitely be checking your blog more now that I've found it!

Warsaw Will said...

I heard about it from a Scottish guy living in New Zealand who often seems to find things in New Zealand papers that are strange to him, such as:

somebody has been trespassed (expelled?)
an officer has been stood down (suspended?)

We have some quirky things in Scottish English too, so good on the New Zealanders, I say.

UpsidedownA said...

I'm a New Zealander but I've been living overseas for nearly 18 years, so I don't know if I still have an ear for how we speak, but my feeling is that 'deal to' means completely eliminate a problem whereas 'deal with' means cope with or manage a problem (as well as completely eliminate it if that's possible). E.g. if you've got the wrong tool for the job and can't get the right tool but have to muddle through, then you have to deal with it. I'd be interested to hear what other people think about this.

UpsidedownA said...

Thinking about this some more... the idea is, if you have a problem, try to deal to it. If you can't deal to it, then you have to deal with it. The example I gave about having the wrong tool for the job was not the best because you might think that it was the job not the lack of the tool that the deal to/with idiom applied to. Dealing to the problem of not having the right tool requires getting the right tool. Dealing with the problem of not having the right tool means adjusting your technique as necessary to accomplish the task with the tools you do have.

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