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5 Comments

  • Interesting post, Stan. Another intriguing case is the decline in the use of the verb “fetch”. In the original British National Corpus (1992), fetch occurs almost 16 times per million words, but in our most recent corpus (2013) its frequency is down to 5.8 per million. (And I read somewhere that a similar trend is observable in the new BNC you refer to here.) Just out of interest I checked our corpus of Jane Austen’s novels (which reflect the English of 200 years ago), and found that fetch occurs 45 times in a corpus of well under 1 million words – giving a frequency of around 50 occurrences per million! A marked decline in use, then, but I wonder if anyone out there can explain this? (For the record, it’s not a word I ever use myself, but plenty of people do.)

  • in reply to Michael Rundell. Ms. Austen may have used the word fetch in the form of fetching or fetchingly, meaning attractive. I’d guess that usage is obsolete.
    A more recent factor could be that physically fetching things is less common in the age of email, downloads and online shopping.

  • That’s an interesting case, Michael. Timothy, I like your suggestions about why fetch has declined, though fetching ‘attractive’ is not yet obsolete: a browse on Google Books shows that it’s still in use (indeed, I use it occasionally myself). I wondered if Mean Girls would give the word a boost – even though it used it in a slang way with a different meaning – but evidently not.

  • I think it’s simply because so many people now just use “get” instead of fetch. I rarely heard it used in Scotland growing up in the 2nd half of the 20th century and always felt it was more “English English” than my own local variant.