On Accident
February 27, 2004 12:41 AM   Subscribe

My teacher noticed that I say "on accident" when I mean "accidentally". Apparently everyone else in class says, "by accident". Is "on accident" a regionalism? An error? Should I be deeply paranoid about it? [More inside]

Googling brought up some pages that claim this is an error, and some that claim it's a regionalism. Now I'm curious - does anybody else say this? Anyone from an area where many people say it? I never even noticed it before, and now I can't stop thinking about it. English particles... everywhere... out to get me!
posted by vorfeed to Writing & Language (39 answers total)
 
i'll say "on accident" occasionally, but for some reason in my mind it rings rather grade-schoolish -- i sorta chastise myself after it spills out of my mouth. i definitely think it's not anything you'd want to write and try to pass off as proper english, but hey, i try to pass off a lot of crap as proper that's far less grammatical.

i grew up in northern california, if that helps.
posted by fishfucker at 5:12 AM on February 27, 2004


It might indeed be a Northern California thing, because that's where we were living for four years when my kid brother was learning to talk and he uses that phrase (although, he is only ten). My sister and I rarely say it that way, though it does happen now and again.

As a family, we also say "choose out" rather than "pick out" which I've only recently noticed much less have an explaination for. Does the rest of your family say "on accident"?
posted by nelleish at 5:34 AM on February 27, 2004


I also grew up in N. California but I've always said "accidentally". Then again, it was practically in Oregon.
posted by birdherder at 6:49 AM on February 27, 2004


Sounds like a gramatically incorrect obverse to "on purspose."
posted by Blue Stone at 6:49 AM on February 27, 2004


I'm in Southern California, and I hear this quite often.
posted by waxpancake at 6:58 AM on February 27, 2004


We say "on accident" here in eastern Kansas (that being the civilized end of the state) without thinking twice about it.
posted by katieinshoes at 7:00 AM on February 27, 2004


I'd say it's a regionalism. I don't think that makes it wrong per se, but I'd avoid it in careful writing. Sort of like the sick to/sick at the stomach difference, but more noticeable.

And yes, you should be paranoid, but not because of this. Because of the black helicopters.
posted by adamrice at 7:01 AM on February 27, 2004


I hate "on accident." And what Blue Stone said.
posted by rushmc at 7:24 AM on February 27, 2004


Yeah I always hear "on accident" and "on purpose" and never their correct pronunciations. I am also from *cough* far-far-far eastern Kansas. Farther east then katieinshoes. I think it's traveling westward
posted by geoff. at 7:29 AM on February 27, 2004


Hmm, I've used both (grew up in Jersey) though in my middle years I've settled on "by"
posted by jalexei at 7:39 AM on February 27, 2004


Central Indiana representin' here. "On accident" is much more common than "by accident."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2004


I hear/use 'on accident' as well as 'on purpose' and I grew up in Alaska.
posted by rhapsodie at 9:21 AM on February 27, 2004


If there's any question as to whether it's regional or an error, it's almost certainly regional. Nothing to worry about, unless you want to sound a different way.
posted by Hildago at 9:47 AM on February 27, 2004


Okay, where does "on accident" not pop up? I'm pretty sure I've heard and said it, and I'm in Texas. Never really thought about it before.
posted by furiousthought at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2004


Sounds like a gramatically incorrect obverse to "on purspose."

bingo. it immediately marks one as dumber than a box of rocks. that, and "could of" and "would of". but the grandaddy of them all was the site on which i saw the author suffered from "low self of steam".
posted by quonsar at 10:11 AM on February 27, 2004


and i suspect that it isn't regional but generational. 30 years ago i never heard anybody say "on accident".
posted by quonsar at 10:13 AM on February 27, 2004


and if they did, the standard response would have been "talk much?"
posted by quonsar at 10:15 AM on February 27, 2004


Chalk one up for Ontario, furiousthought. I was prepared to write up a grammar error post until I read this thread though...
posted by shepd at 10:24 AM on February 27, 2004


Never knew "on purpose" was odd. I'll be it I've written worse.
posted by Feisty at 10:34 AM on February 27, 2004


Thanks for your responses, everyone. It makes me feel a bit better to see so many intelligent posters in the "on accident" boat. As for my background, I'm from Nevada, and my parents are from Arizona and Nebraska. I'm pretty sure that they also say "on accident", and I would suppose that many of the people I grew up around also did, given that I never noticed it before.

As for being marked as stupid, I don't mind that much - my speech is full of weird irregulars, partly for that very purpose. It's much easier to outmaneuver people when they think you're dumb... and much more fun, because you get to see that stunned look of realization with no extra work!
posted by vorfeed at 11:08 AM on February 27, 2004


Never knew "on purpose" was odd.

"On purpose" isn't odd; "on accident" is the (apparently not so) unusual usage we're discussing.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:51 AM on February 27, 2004


I also never knew about "on purpose" sounding or being considered odd. What in the world would the alternate phrase be?

"On accident" sounds peculiar to my native San Franciscan ears. I hear it from time to time, from all manner of folks, but it doesn't ring true to me. My money's on regionalism.

"Choose out" sounds like Engrish mistranslation. I've never heard that before.

"I'll be it" rather than "albeit" reads pretty weird, too.
posted by majick at 11:55 AM on February 27, 2004


I'm Canadian. I've never heard of "on accident" before this thread.
posted by timeistight at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2004


Yeah, sometimes I do that myself on mistake.
posted by scarabic at 12:46 PM on February 27, 2004


I'd hazard a guess it comes from learning that "accident" is the opposite of "purpose" (in this usage), so "on accident" is obviously the opposite of "on purpose".

Eastern Iowan: It depends on where in the sentence I use the "accident" part. If at the end, "on accident" is more nartual for me to say. If at the beginning, "accidentally" will probably come out.

e.g. "I broke the window on accident" and "I accidentally broke the window."

Unless, of course, I'd done it on purpose.
posted by ArsncHeart at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2004


I should stop reading threads like this one. Descriptivism is so depressing...
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:25 PM on February 27, 2004


One more data-point. I say 'on accident' all the time in casual conversation and so do many people I grew up with so don't feel too bad. I grew up in San Diego.

"Did you do it on purpose?"
"No, I did it on accident."
posted by vacapinta at 2:37 PM on February 27, 2004


Sheesh. Next thing you know, you'll all be saying "different than."
posted by kindall at 4:04 PM on February 27, 2004


Born and raised in the Orange County region of Southern California.

It was an accident.

or

I did it accidentally.
posted by deborah at 5:44 PM on February 27, 2004


30 years ago i never heard anybody say "on accident".

The education system was better back then.
posted by rushmc at 5:46 PM on February 27, 2004


Ignore quonsar and rushmc, fine upstanding citizens who think language = morality. It's a regional thing, and it appears to be spreading (judging by this thread). At present it would look funny in print, but give it another fifty years and it will probably be considered a normal alternative.
posted by languagehat at 6:39 PM on February 27, 2004


Thanks, languagehat.
posted by vorfeed at 8:01 PM on February 27, 2004


Language does not equal morality, but how a person chooses to use it does say a lot about them, and others will judge them by it. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous. If you don't care what sort of image you are presenting (and the very nature of this post suggests that in this case the person does), then don't worry about it and feel free to make up all the words, grammar, spelling and punctuation you wish.
posted by rushmc at 7:24 AM on February 28, 2004


I've never ever heard that usage, in 15 years of bouncing around the planet. Must be America-only.

Descriptivism is so depressing...

Yeah, but so is prescriptivism, but depressing in an entirely different way.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:30 AM on February 28, 2004


I would say on accident, or accidentally. Never by accident.

Regional: West Michigan. Detroit is, I'm sure, another can of worms, as is the UP.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:49 AM on February 28, 2004


I've lived in Toronto and Halifax.

I've never heard of "on accident," and there's nothing wrong with "by accident." Maybe "on accident" is a regional thing, but it sounds just wrong to me. Just because something is widespread regionally doesn't make it correct, especially in formal writing.

Also, "on purpose," not "by purpose."

And let me add to quonsar's comment by saying that people who say things like, "If I would have gone to the store, I wouldn't have run out of food," really get to me. The "would have/would" construction in place of the correct "had/would" is another sign of the decline of Western civilization. It's even worse when people think they're saying "would of." The barbarians are surely at the gates.
posted by Dasein at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2004


If you don't care what sort of image you are presenting (and the very nature of this post suggests that in this case the person does), then don't worry about it and feel free to make up all the words, grammar, spelling and punctuation you wish.

Actually, I don't care all that much. Like I said above, I already use tons of irregulars in my speech, many of them deliberate errors, and I generally view being thought of as stupid as an advantage. I was just curious as to whether or not "on accident" was a regionalism.

This said, I really wish we could have skipped some of the sarcastic, content-free comments in this thread. There's a reason why the submission page for AskMefi asks us to refrain from posting wisecracks to the green.
posted by vorfeed at 2:59 PM on February 28, 2004


This said, I really wish we could have skipped some of the sarcastic, content-free comments in this thread. There's a reason why the submission page for AskMefi asks us to refrain from posting wisecracks to the green.

Amen. Lecturing from a high horse (or snarking from a low one) does not equal giving information.
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on February 29, 2004


"Should I be deeply paranoid about it" is a request for opinion. If you are too sensitive to hear people's real opinions, you probably shouldn't be asking.
posted by rushmc at 8:22 PM on February 29, 2004


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