Sunday, February 14, 2010

Having Reason To Discourse Upon The Particle -soever

Having spent the better part of this weekend reading Thomas More's Utopia for Monday's book club meeting, for truly no more suitable exercise of mind fits me than a quiet afternoon's reading, I'm naturally predisposed to write in a style more favorable to the musty halls of libraries, once the repositories of great and wonderful learning, now the lodgings of vagabonds and stools of too too solid a material, than this the new and vast tubular nebula...(shakes it off).

I discovered in the free PDF version I downloaded from HERE* a use of the particle -soever, that I found odd. In my dialect (Northern Californian American English), there is one and only one acceptable use of -soever: 'whatsoever.' All other uses sound awkward or flat ungrammatical. But in this book, I discovered five distinct uses:
  • 12 - whatsoever
  • 8 - 'how X soever'
  • 1 - whichsoever
  • 1 - whithersoever
  • 1 - 'as X soever'
The 'how X soever' construction first jumped out at me as surprising, then I noticed the other uses. For me, 'whichsoever' is flat ungrammatical and 'withersoever' is clearly archaic (wither anything sounds archaic to me). I decided to do just a tiny bit of research on these constructions to see what I could find (in a short time, using freely available resources).

What I discovered was ...

Google/Bing counts
  • soever 4,170,000/222,000 
  • whatsoever 32,200,000/21,900,000
    "what * soever" 13,200,000/25,300,000 (included whatsoever)
  • howsoever 1,330,000/121,000
    "how * soever" 9,750,000/654,000  
  • whichsoever 155,000/17,400
    "which * soever" 13,600,000/664,000
  • whithersoever 296,000/35,900
    "whither * soever" 2,320,000/658,000
  • "as * soever" 12,200,000/27
  • whomsoever 1,380,000/231,000
    "whom * soever"4,650,000/661,000 
  • wheresoever 637,000/67,400
    "where * soever" 6,170,000/661,000 
  • whysoever 3,060/294
    "why * soever" 6/14
Note that the "wh- * soever" counts were very noisy and are not worth the bits their they're written on. Also note that Bing returned 5 counts in the 600,000 range. I found that a tad suspicious. Clearly, whatsoever is the most frequent, and that accords with my intuition. But whysoever is virtually nonexistent.

Time Corpus
Next, and last, I went to the trusty Time Magazine Corpus of American English. This lets me sketch the frequency of a word decade by decade over the last 100 years. I searched for the whole words only (not the "wh- * soever" constructions).









What these tables tell us (apart from the fact that whatsoever has always been the most frequent variation), is that all of these uses have been in use at some point over the last 100 years. (pssst, is it possible to download the data to a csv file or something so I can display the data in different ways, rather than screen grabs?).

Thus endeth the day's blogging.

*Try as I might, I could not find any info on who the translator was for this version. I choose not to follow that thought to its plausible conclusion.


Chris, The Book Swede said...

"Whomsoever" is perfectly normal for me (as is, of course, "whatsoever"), but I agree with you about the rest. I'm in the UK, so that might make a difference.

All the rest feel wrong, except "whysoever" which feels fine to me, except that I've never come across it.

Chris said...

Chris, interesting, because whysoever is quite bad for me. I admit that as I reviewed these terms they all struck me as rather British. Certainly, they are all high register and academic.

Tom Noir said...

Interesting! I've never heard most of those constructions except for whatsoever and whosoever. I don't think I'd balk too much at 'wheresoever'. 'Whysoever' would definitely make me sit up and take notice.

I just stumbled across your blog, by the way. Enjoying it very much.

Chris said...

Tom, thanks for reading. I took at look at your blogs too. Good stuff.

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