Another Think Coming? Scrutinizing An Oft-Misused Phrase

When President Obama addressed the country on New Year's Eve in the middle of negotiations over the "fiscal cliff," he warned Republicans that any government spending cuts would have to be accompanied by tax increases. If they thought otherwise, the president said, "then they've got another thing coming." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase was originally "to have another think coming."

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(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, good afternoon, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Good afternoon.

OBAMA: Welcome to the White House.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

At a news conference earlier this week, President Obama tried to put pressure on Republicans and federal budget negotiations. The president said he would not accept spending cuts from Republicans without some tax increases. Then he used a phrase that raised a few eyebrows.

OBAMA: If they think that's going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they've got another thing coming.

WERTHEIMER: That's because apparently this is one oft-misused phrase. Here's our resident fact maven, NPR librarian Kee Malesky.

KEE MALESKY, BYLINE: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original phrase was "to have another think coming" - meaning, to be greatly mistaken.

WERTHEIMER: In other words it's a K, not a G. That's certainly the way it used to be printed. To quote from an 1898 edition of the newspaper The Quincy Whig...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) "Chicago thinks it wants a new charter. Chicago has another think coming. It doesn't need a new charter as much as it needs some honest officials."

WERTHEIMER: Misheard enough times, think became thing. So how should modern newspapers transcribe the president's remarks? Let's listen to the president one more time.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: ...then they've got another thing coming.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I think it's a close call. But the official White House transcript landed on "thing." And in the end so did the paper of record, The New York Times. And if that's the case, it would seem the president is with the majority on this usage.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "TOUCH OF EVIL")

DENNIS WEAVER: (as Night Manager) It's a mess, awful mess. They think I'm gonna clean it up, they got another thing coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "LOSING ISAIAH")

HALLE BERRY: (as Khaila Richards) If you think you're gonna just walk up in this court and take my baby like you take some puppy from a pound, you got another thing coming, lady.

WERTHEIMER: Lines from movies, "Touch of Evil" and "Losing Isaiah." And let's give some credit to the '80s. That decade gave us this hit, from the band Judas Priest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMING")

JUDAS PRIEST: You got another thing coming. You got another thing coming....

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.

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