Sunday, January 5, 2014

Having a think about 'another think coming'

If you thought that, you've got another think (or thing) coming

There are now two versions of this idiom in use, one ending in another think coming, and another in another thing coming. People of my generation are probably more familiar with the think version, but if you're under fifty, it's likely that it's the thing version you know.
Although I personally think the repetition of think is the whole point of this expression, it seems that the thing version is more prevalent nowadays. I don't really want to get into discussions about the correctness of one or the other in this post (there's plenty of that in the links), but rather to find early examples of the think version.

A couple of definitions

This is the definition at Oxford Dictionaries Online
have (got) another think coming
INFORMAL used to express the speaker’s disagreement with or unwillingness to do something suggested by someone else:
  • if they think I’m going to do physical jerks, they’ve got another think coming
Personally, I don't think it has to be at someone else's suggestion, and prefer this one from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary
you've got another think coming
(INFORMAL) used to tell somebody that they are wrong about something and must change their plans or opinions:
  • If you think I'm going to pay all your bills you've got another think coming
You can find another definition by Mark Israel at alt.english.usage (link below)

A little history

You'll have noticed that that both definitions mention only the think version, and this is generally regarded to be the earlier, although actual evidence seems thin on the ground. Both started to be used around the beginning of the twentieth century, although at first the think version was dominant.
But what is clear is that the thing version has gained a lot of ground, especially since the late-seventies and early eighties, and many people put this down to the influence of heavy metal band Judas Priest's song 'You've got another thing coming', released in 1982. But the thing version can be traced back at least to 1918, and some people think it might even have been the original version.
It might be tempting to think that the have + thing version had a bit of a peak around 1900, but if you check Google Books for this period, you'll find that most of the instances of are of "another thing coming out". It is in fact, a red herring.
See Google Books - "have another thing coming" 1880-1910

Earliest citations

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the think version is older but doesn't appear to have any citations to prove it. The first generally accepted version of the thing version is from the Syracuse Herald (N.Y.) of 1919
  • If you think the life of a movie star is all sunshine and flowers you've got another thing coming.
while the earliest citation for the think version that the OED has, is apparently from the 1937 edition of American Speech Vol XII. 317/1
  • Several different statements used for the same idea -- that of some one's making a mistake...[e.g.] you have another think coming.
But I think we can do better than that.

Nearly there

At, referring to that 1918 Syracuse Herald quote, they say:
The paper's local rival, The Syracuse Standard, outdoes that by several years, by printing the 'think' version in May 1898:
  • "Conroy lives in Troy and thinks he is a coming fighter. This gentleman has another think coming. It is probable that McCoy will next meet Joe Choynski."
And at The they have these examples:
  • Having elected him republicans think they have some voice in the distribution of the spoils and there is where they have another think coming to them
    [The Daily Argos News 1897]
  • Those who thought taxes high in the past will have another think coming in the future.
    [Clinton Mirror 1907]
  • If this Good Will Campaign is not a close race then you have another think coming.
    [Steuben Farmer's Advocate 1925]
Two of these has the double instance of think and are pretty close in meaning to our idiom, but none have the full expression: if + think ... another think coming


So, can we beat the OED's 1937 citation with the full if + think ... another think coming idiom. It turns out we can:
  • May be you think your factory is not a school. If you do, you've got another think coming.
    The Package, 1906 - [Google Books]
  • If you think it's easy to grab off a ten every day in the week, you've got another think coming
    Everybody's Magazine - Volume 14 - 1906 [Google Books]
  • If this company thinks I'm going to lie down and swallow this loss they've got another think coming
    The Saturday Evening Post - 1909 [Google Books]
  • If you think I'm a negro delegate, you've got another think coming
    The Prodigious Hickey: A Lawrenceville Story, by Owen Johnson, 1910 - [Google Books]
  • So sure as he is working here as assistant cutter," Polatkin continued. "And if you think that this here feller Borrochson comes to work in our place, Scheikowitz, you've got another think coming, and that's all I got to say
    Elkan Lubliner, American, by Montague Glass, 1912 - Project Gutenberg
  • You've got another think coming, if you think I'm an exile!
    The American Magazine Volume 86, 1918 Google Books
  • 'Jackson thinks he has me in a pinch and that I will have to sell. Well he has another "think" coming."
    A Deal In Ducks by Guy L Clements 1921 [].
  • If you think that the millions of American voters in this country thought that they were giving you a mandate to keep them paying their taxes, and relieve these abnormal fortunes of their taxes, you have got another think coming to you
    United States Congress, 1921 - Google Books
  • And if you think the women of Palestine are any better than the flute-players of this town, you got another think coming — see?
    Moses, a Novel, by Louis Untermayer, 1928 - Google Books

Two thinks without if

We saw how and The Grammarist had early examples with a double occurrence of think but without if. We have some more here from around the same time, a little earlier than the first if examples. This suggests that the if version might have been a refinement of an earlier idiom.
  • This is from Miss Buzby's Boarders, Published 1899, in the same volume as The Fruit of His Folly, by Arthur Lewis Tubbs (1894) [Google Books]

  • One would think so clumsy a scheme could not be successful, but the fact that the same plan, with very little variation, has been used by swindlers for years, in almost every state of the Union, shows that anyone thinking so "has another think coming"
    The American Soap Journal and Manufacturing Chemist 1900 [Google Books]
    (The fact that the writer has put another think coming into quote marks, suggests that he might be referring to a new or fashionable expression)
  • Mr Dickerson thought to force it, but he had another think coming a moment later, for the tuna is not built that way.
    The American Rifleman Vol 30 1901 [Google Books]

Triple think!

  • Skidmore Tyres had another think coming when the brakeman signalled him to back-tip. but he didn't wait for it: that think that wasn't thought may cost him his job.
    Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen's Magazine, 1906 [Google Books]

Update - another guess coming

It has been pointed out by a Traduttore, a commenter at the Pain in the English forum (link below) that early versions if this idiom sometimes appeared with guess rather than think or thing. He even speculates that this might have been the original form, coming perhaps from parlour guessing games, where you took it in turns to guess, so would have 'another guess coming'.
Although it seems to have peaked around 1917, and its use was never very high in British English, there are certainly some very early examples:
  • If you think I never ponder over the work you have done and are still doing for the protection of the furred and feathered people, you have another guess coming.
    Shields' Magazine - Volumes 2-3 - 1906 [Google Books]
  • If you don't believe there are such union men, then you have another guess coming.
    Trans-communicator - Volume 24 - 1907 [Google Books]
There are also earlier examples of 'another guess coming', as there are of 'another thing coming', but without the preceding 'If you think ...'
  • Mr. Pagan — I wish your guess was right, but you have another guess coming.
    The Inland Printer - Volume 27 - 1901 - [Google Books]
  • I think you have another guess coming, Mr. Stuart
    The Railroad Trainman - Volume 19 - 1902 [Google Books]
  • In the language of the man in the street Mr. Gage "has another guess coming."
    The Public: A Journal of Democracy, Volume 7 1904 [Google Books]
    (Interesting reference to "the language of the man in the street")

Afterthought - single think

It looks to me as though the 'If you think ... another think/thing/guess coming' idiom may well have developed out of antecedents without either the 'if you think part', or the double instance of think, as in the example below. On the other hand it could be that the expression was so well known by this time, that the other half could be taken as read.

Credit where credit's due

I'd like to express my warm thanks to Antony Shugaar, aka Traduttore, of the US, who has helped me with suggestion, some links and screenshots - it turns out that I don't get quite the same access to Google Books here in Poland as he does in the States. It was also Anthony who put me onto the related 'another guess coming', which he suspects might have been the earlier expression.

Conclusions so far

  • Up to now I've found no examples of got / have another thing coming (in this sense) at Google Books in the period 1800 - 1830, so I think we can assume that this was definitely a later variation.
  • If 'think' has any early competitor, it is 'guess' (from at least 1901) rather than 'thing'.
  • It seems me to that the 'If you think' type expressions grew out of earlier expressions with a double think, but no if.
  • We can trace 'If you think ... think' constructions at least back to 1906, and double 'think' constructions to about 1897
  • From quite early on, the 'got / have another think coming' part seems to have been used without any preceding 'think', which suggests that this expression was quite well known by this time.
  • The story's not over yet. There are some interesting peaks in these graphs to be investigated, for example.

Google Book Search

Here are some Google Book search links for books published between 1890 and 1910:
Searches of Google Books for all four variations with thing for 1910-1920 and 1920-1930 also draw a blank.

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