Solecism in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Solecism quote

Richard Nordquist

In prescriptive grammar, a solecism is a usage error or any deviation from conventional word order.

"In its broader implications," notes Maxwell Nurnberg, "a solecism is a deviation from the norm, something illogical, incongruous, absurd, or even an impropriety, a breach of etiquette" (I Always Look Up the Word Egregious, 1998).
The term solecism is derived from Soli, the name of an ancient Athenian colony where a dialect regarded as substandard was spoken.

Examples and Observations

  • "Solecism. An ancient term for an error in syntax arising from a mismatch between words. E.g., those page would be a solecism since plural those does not match or is not 'congruent' with, singular page. . . .
    "The extension to errors other than of language is modern."
    (P.H. Matthews, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. Oxford Univ. Press, 1997)
  • "I quit school when I were sixteen."
    (public service ad)
  • "Songs you sang to me, sounds you brang to me."
    (Neil Diamond, "Play Me")
  • Curiouser and Curiouser
    "[T]he phrase curiouser and curiouser . . . occurs for the first time in the 1865 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at the start of Chapter 2: '"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); "now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!"' It's not 'good English' because of the rule that -er may . . . be added only to words of one or two syllables; a three-syllable word like curious requires the use of 'more' instead, so Alice would properly have said, 'More and more curious!' But, recalling Alice and her truly curious adventures, curiouser and curiouser has passed into general use as a phrase to evoke any situation so curious as to cause one to forget 'good English.'"
    (Allan Metcalf, Predicting New Words. Houghton, 2002)
  • Between You and I
    "Between you and I
    And the stars that light up the sky . . .."
    (Jessica Simpson, "Between You and I")
  • "[S]ome things we now consider to be mistakes or solecisms were once quite acceptable. . . . Are we racked with indignation when we hear Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice read a letter from Antonio containing the words 'All debts are cleared between you and I'?"
    (Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars. John Murray, 2011)
  • Solecisms and Barbarisms (1882)
    "Solecism. In rhetoric, a solecism is defined as an offense against the rules of grammar by the use of words in a wrong construction; false syntax.
    "'Modern grammarians designate by solecism any word or expression which does not agree with the established usage of writing or speaking. But, as customs change, that which at one time is considered a solecism may at another be regarded as correct language. A solecism, therefore, differs from a barbarism, inasmuch as the latter consists in the use of a word or expression which is altogether contrary to the spirit of the language, and can, properly speaking, never become established as correct language.' -- Penny Cyclopaedia"
    (Alfred Ayres, The Verbalist: A Manual Devoted to Brief Discussions of the Right and the Wrong Use of Words. D. Appleton, 1882)
  • Roman Rhetoricians on Solecisms
    "I allow that a solecism may occur in one word, but not unless there be something having the force of another word, to which the incorrect word may be referred; so that a solecism arises from the union of things by which something is signified or some intention manifested; and, that I may avoid all caviling, it sometimes occurs in one word, but never in a word by itself."
    (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory)
    "There are two faults in speaking that can mar its Latinity: solecism and barbarism. A solecism occurs if the concord between a word and the one before it in a group of words is defective. A barbarism is when something faulty is expressed in the words."
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Solecism in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Solecism in English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Solecism in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).