a rethink

From “Community colleges: Restoration drama”, Economist 4/28/12, p. 36, on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposals for the city’s community colleges:

Under a plan produced for the mayor in December last year, each of the city’s community colleges is to be tailored for training in a specific sector of industry …

All this chimes perfectly with the objectives of the Obama administration …

Such a rethink is also in tune with a new report organised under the auspices of the American Association of Community Colleges.

The nouning rethink.  Not new, but still interesting: why use it when rethinking is available?

Some background from OED3 March 2012:

rethink n.
Etymology:  < rethink v. Compare earlier rethinking n.
An act of rethinking, esp. one that leads to change; a reappraisal, a reassessment; (occas.) a result of this.

1958   Times Lit. Suppl. 12 Sept. 511/2   Then came Mr. Khrushchev’s speech at the Twentieth Party Congress and close behind it the great Communist re-think.

1968   New Scientist 8 Aug. 293/1   The need for a widespread rethink on attitudes in science education, particularly at university level.

1976   Jrnl. Royal Soc. Arts May 285/1   It is more difficult to apply the principles to famous modern buildings which look like a total rethink.

2004   G. Woodward I’ll go to Bed at Noon v. 92   A complete editorial rethink had removed Biffo from the cover and replaced him with Dennis the Menace.

Rethink is an event noun. Rethinking can generally substitute for it, but only because rethinking has a wider range of reference:

rethinking n.
The action of rethink v.; reconsideration; an instance of this, a rethink.

1579   S. Brinkley tr. G. Loarte Exercise Christian Life xxi. f. 119v,   The oft thinking and rethinking of the life and passion of our Sauiour Iesus Christe.

Similarly, thinking and re-thinking in 1741; then …:

1827   in Chinese Repository 14 (1845) 169   On rethinking, he considers it quite improper to admit the question for a moment.

And the re-thinking of experience 1881; the duty of rethinking 1919; much rethinking on the subject of disarmament 1955; the shake-ups and rethinkings of the Fifties and Sixties 1977; the root-and-branch rethinking of everything 2004. The earlier cites are simply nominalizations of the verb rethink — mass nouns denoting actions, for which rethink can’t be substituted. Then we get to count uses (1977 and 2004), for which the event nouning rethink is possible.

That brings us to the Economist story, which uses rethink. Rethinking would have been possible, but rethink is more specific, as well as being a bit briefer (see here).


6 Responses to “a rethink”

  1. the ridger Says:

    To me, it’s the same question as “why use thinking when thought is available?” Act – completed act – vs process. (As you note, of course). “Such a rethinking” would suggest that no decisions have been made, that the process of rethinking is ongoing; “such a rethink” suggests that the decision HAS been made, the process of rethinking is now over.

    • mollymooly Says:

      A formally closer analogy is “why use think when thinking is available?” Dr Seuss apart, the main noun uses are “have a think” and, arguably, “think tank”. Maybe this helps explain why “have another think coming” has eggcorned into “have another thing coming”.

  2. Marc Leavitt Says:

    It seems this may be illustrative of a trend; if this be my fail, a mea culpa is in order.

  3. Greg Lee Says:

    When they are in nominal position, e.g. as a subject, a difference between rethink and rethinking is that the former is always a noun, while the latter may be a verb. Compare a radical rethink of the proposal as subject with radically rethinking the proposal, where rethinking is clearly a verb, since it is (1) modified by an adverb, (2) takes a direct object, and (3) refuses a preceding article (*a rethinking the proposal).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Radically rethinking the proposal is a “nominal gerund” phrase, on which there’s a lot of analytic literature. The core of the problem is that nominal gerunds have the external syntax of NPs but (mostly) the internal syntax of VPs. That means that rethinking in the above example acts like a V by being the head of a VP (inside) and like a N by being the head of a NP (outside). For lexicographic purposes, it would certainly be classed as a N.

      The analytic literature on nominal gerunds focuses on how to capture their split behaviors.

      • Greg Lee Says:

        “For lexicographic purposes”? If you mean that anyone with the mistaken idea that every NP has a noun head would call it a noun, I’d go along with that. (I always try to be agreeable.)

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