in/with hindsight

Before our irregularly scheduled blogpost, a couple of announcements:
First, I'm on a (BrE) one-off Radio 4 program(me) tomorrow morning (10:30): Americanize! Why the Americanisation of English is a good thing, presented by Susie Dent. It should be available on iPlayer Radio after that.

    Top Language Lovers 2017
Second, this blog has been nominated for the annual bab.la Top Language Lovers award 2017. If you'd like to support it (or even if you wouldn't) you can click on the logo and vote:








 And now on to the show. What preposition goes before hindsight?

This was a recent Twitter Difference of the Day, and a conveniently simple thing to blog about during (BrE academic) marking season. I'd asked an American lexicographer to (BrE) have/(AmE) take a look at the chapter about (among other things) lexicography in my book manuscript. I had written with hindsight in my book manuscript and he queried whether I'd "gone native" with my preposition. Indeed, it seems I had. As you can see in the screenshot, the GloWBE corpus shows that AmE prefers in hindsight.





I'd say that BrE prefers in too, since with 929 hits, in is the 'winning' preposition before hindsight in BrE. But add of and with together, and they've got 952 hits. I'd say they probably should be added together because the of number actually stands for the longer with-ful phrase: with the benefit of hindsight.

Using hindsight in this kind of prepositional phrase meaning 'in retrospect', seems to be a mid-20th-century thing. No preposition here is the 'original', as far as I can tell, but the in is probably affected by the expression in retrospect. There's less hindsight used in this way in AmE, but AmE has more in retrospect (about 1.5x more).

23 comments

  1. A genuine question: is "reach out" (meaning communicate with) in fact American in origin?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we got the sense of emotional communication from Motown.

      Delete
    2. I wrote about it back here: https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/anti-americanismism-part-2.html

      And when I did, I was kind of out-of-date the goings-on in AmE. When I moved to UK, I didn't know the simple 'communicate with' meaning--it wasn't yet common. What I did know was the emotional sense. There was a commercial for the phone company with 'reach out and touch someone' as its jingle, but I still associated it with the emotional usage (as 'touch someone' would imply). So, it's a pretty recent thing for people to say 'we wanted to reach out and let you know about our special offers', and yes it does seem to be American.

      Delete
    3. The OED lists

      2 intrans
      ...
      f fig. of the mind, spirit, etc.spec. with out: to offer sympathy, support, assistance, or understanding to; also with for (a person, help, etc.).

      Their earliest quotation with out:

      1912 Publ. U.S. Children's Bureau No. 153. 166 Groups and agencies which are planning to reach out to low-income families with educational efforts in the area of sound family life.

      It doesn't sound that odd in British English, particularly with reference to 'caring' agencies. And the noun outreach sounds perfectly commonplace.

      'Reach out and touch' seems to be the metaphor of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song Reach Out (I'll Be There).

      Delete
  2. I (elderly BrE speaker) find both in hindsight and with hindsight spring equally to mind. But for me both of them mean 'with the benefit of hindsight' — not simply 'in retrospect'.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm with David Crosbie. My instinctive usage would be "with the benefit of". Or I might more commonly use "on second thoughts".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is "on second thoughts" normal BrE usage? I have always used, and heard "on second thought" (singular) in AmE. (I've lived both in the west and east coast.)

      Delete
    2. I think it's the norm here. Personally, I would never say on second thought.

      The preference is confirmed by one version of this popular verse:

      Today's my daughters wedding day,
      Ten thousand pounds I'll give away
      On second thoughts, which are
      [my emphasis] the best,
      I'll keep it in the old oak chest


      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. In Canada, we use "on second thought" (singular) too. I've never heard it with the plural. We also use "in hindsight" rather than "with"

      Delete
  4. BrE native, since that seems to get forgotten. I'd probably split between saying "in hindsight" on most occasions (I might not in a prepared speech) and informally writing "in hindsight" and formally writing "with the benefit of hindsight." I'm sipping my first tea of the day so that might not be quite right but it feels pretty much right.

    "With hindsight" without the extra words in the middle sounds odd to me. I'd understand it but I can't imagine myself saying it and certainly not writing it. I'm not sure if that's generational or regional though.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous in New Jersey20 May, 2017 21:09

    Two things:

    Is "One-off" so much more common to BrE that it gets marked? How did I not know that? (As I've probably demonstrated here many times, I sometimes confuse the two dialects. I am not sure why that happens, either.)

    and (as if to further underline my parenthetical point above, I'm wrong about the next question)

    Isn't "have a look" more common to BrE than to AmE? I admit that I sometimes use it, but I'm fairly certain most people I know use "take a look". I thought that there a post here about the "have a ______"(BrE)/"take a _____"(AmE) dichotomy, but I'm terrible at searching the blog.

    – AiNJ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is a light post about light verbs:
      https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/some-light-verbs-take-vs-make.html

      The recent American acceptance of BrE 'one-off' is part of the reason for Ben Yagoda's blog 'Not One-Off Britishisms'.
      https://britishisms.wordpress.com/about/

      Delete
  6. Anonymous in New Jersey20 May, 2017 22:52

    Thanks, Lynne. I'll have to have a look at Yagoda's blog.

    I thought that you'd covered have/take at some point. And now I see you've edited the post, making the second half of my comment moot. (Oh, the sacrifices of anonymity!)


    – AiNJ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous in New Jersey20 May, 2017 22:54

      I meant to type "'take' a look".

      – AiNJ

      Delete
  7. Canadian here (mid-20s). We also say "in hindsight", which could be used synonymously with "in retrospect" in most cases.

    The saying "hindsight's 20/20" is common in North America; is it also used in the UK?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personally I'd feel comfortable with

      with twenty twenty hindsight

      Anything else would sound odd.

      Delete
    2. Here in the USA, I have heard only "hindsight is 20-20"; "20-20 hindsight" would sound to me like a certain kind of hindsight, whereas "hindsight is 20-20" says to me that all hindsight is that way. Also, I can't recall hearing any preposition with "hindsight" except "in." But I'm 63 and there's a lot I can't recall.

      Delete
  8. From a few minutes into the BBC Radio 4 segment:

    "I have yet to hear anybody, even in the United States, talk about, 'You pull this [lɛ]ver and guess what happens'."

    Um...

    "This isn't a linguistic thing, it's a pronunciation thing."

    Um...

    ReplyDelete
  9. According to John Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary both levᵊr and liːvᵊr are found in 'General American', so John Humphreys may have been reporting an actual truth. (Alternatively he could have misremembered, or translated the pronunciation mentally without noticing.)

    The complication is leverage. I tend to think of it as two separate words:

    MECHANICAL ˈliːvərɪdʒ
    FINANCIAL ˈlɛvərɪdʒ

    because I learned the financial term without understanding the metaphor. I suspect I may not be alone.

    Wells gives only one British pronunciation and only one (different) American.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems very unlikely that Mr. Humphreys has only heard Americans say liːvᵊr before, considering that I haven't heard that pronunciation once in my nearly 3 decades living in America. I find a lot of the pronunciations listed in LPD very odd; I'm not sure who was surveyed for that dictionary. This isn't a big deal anyway; I just found that first quote really funny.

      But, back on subject: do I say "with hindsight" or "in hindsight"? I say "in hindsight."

      Delete
  10. "In hindsight" sounds "wrong" to me [BrE]. I want to use "with (the benefit of) hindsight". I'd also use "20/20 hindsight".

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think I use 'with hindsight' more than 'in hindsight' - but I am clear that it is not the same as 'in retrospect', which does not imply that one would have done things differently if one had the knowledge acquired from looking back. Hence the ironic 'hindsight is a wonderful thing'.
    As a Brit of a certain age, I would never use 20/20 in connection with eyesight, whether real or virtual. To me, it's an American usage.

    ReplyDelete

Follow by email

View by topic

Twitter

Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)