Brinkmanship or brinksmanship?

brinkmanship_Ngram

I

heard it on TV again this morning. Someone said “brinkmanship.” In the same conversation, I also heard “brinksmanship.” That’s been the case for a month or so whenever media types are discussing the antics in Washington, and I’ve been meaning to consult a dictionary.

I’ve always said “brinksmanship,” with an s after brink. Never really thought about it. Just thought that was the word. But many people on TV have been saying “brinkmanship,” without that s. 

After a brief search I found a story in Mother Jones by Kevin Drum, who had run into the same situation. He’d always used the s, and this week his copy editor suggested he change it. After consulting a number of sources, he determined that “brinkmanship” was used by an overwhelming majority of people, so he relented.

The source that convinced him was the Google Ngram Viewer, something I’d never heard of but expect to be consulting in the future. It’s an intriguing tool.

If you’re interested in linguistics, check out Drum’s article and the comments that follow. I found them more convincing than the article itself. They also convinced me that I’ve been out of the English classroom far longer than I’d thought.



Categories: language, Media, Society, Writing

11 replies

  1. I haven’t used it a lot, but the few times I have, I’ve gone with the “brinksmanship” variant. I can definitely see a use for the Google Ngram Viewer, but I have to wonder if choosing a language variant based on what’s more popular is how I’d want my kids to learn proper speech. 😕

    • I said as much when philosophermouseofthehedge commented on my About page (since my comments were closed at the time). “On any given day, I could rant about how media popularize and then perpetuate horrible abuses of the language. Unfortunately a large segment of the population seems to learn its English from the media.”

  2. both seem to be correct…it’s just that you hear one variant more often than the other

  3. Interesting.

    I wondered, when did back seat become backseat, and back yard become backyard? Following their example, I found that all crossed at the same point in 1963 and the unigrams have since markedly outpaced the bigram forms.

    • They all crossed in 1963? Fascinating. I can’t imagine why. I did learn somewhere in my distant past that in American English, we tend to evolve from bigrams to hyphenated forms to unigrams. And that some of it is driven by newspapers trying to save as much space as possible (a poor excuse for ravaging the language, IMHO). English is often illogical and constantly evolving (keeps grammarians busy and drives ESLs crazy). I’ve yet to find out why backyard became one word while front yard is still two.

      • At least the terse journalistic style has helped in giving us Hemingway; his famously terse style was influenced (from what I understand) by his journalistic training. And getting your point across with fewer shorter, words I think is a win.

  4. I suppose usage must ultimately prevail. However, I will never dishonor my high school Latin teacher with a data.

    • Hurray! Good for you! I had four years of Latin in high school and it’s been invaluable (although I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time). Do schools even bother to teach it anymore? The way they’ve been dumbing down and stripping down the curricula, I’m guessing they don’t. (It’s a “dead language,” you know.)

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