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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The lady doth protest too much

A faithful Wordlady reader has inquired about the usage of the verb "protest": does one protest something or protest against something? She had been taught that adding "against" was redundant. In fact, the verb "protest" has been used with "against" since the verb first started being used in the "utter an objection" sense in the 1500s, and in Britain the usage is still always with "against". In the US, however, people started dropping the "against" in the late 1800s; some claim that the usage came about because newspapers wanted to save space. Whatever the facts of the matter, "protest something" is now firmly established in North American usage and is now as common as "protest against something". One cannot say that either is wrong.

2 comments:

  1. Hello,

    I wish I had read something about the etymology of this "protest" term.

    Naively, the word seems (to me, at least!) as being ... FOR something (testing ?!) ... :)

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. E.T.: some of my posts are about etymology (the ones I post on Fridays) and the others are about usage. I may mention etymology in the usage ones but it is not always necessary (and requires much more time to research). Please stop reproaching me for not writing more than I write in my posts. I am not a lady of leisure with nothing to do but this.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.