Grammar Guy: Keep your pineapples off my pizza

You’d expect someone as cultured as yours truly to have a hardline stance in the negative towards a phrase like “a-whole-nother.” Today I’d like to not just blow your mind in letting you know I wholeheartedly endorse it but that I think it passes grammatical muster.

I’m pro “a-whole-nother.” There, I said it. And I’m not over here trying to justify a-whole-nother as an example of grammatical tmesis or infixing (look it up), but as meta-analysis, false splitting or rebracketing.

In its history of usage in the English language, the compound word another began as two distinct words: an other. Over time, these two words couldn’t get enough of each other and fused into another word entirely (and literally). It’s as if an and other enjoyed being next to each other so much they just decided to informally move in together.

But does that make it okay? Good question. If another is a combination of an and other, why not write an-whole-nother? Since whole begins with a consonant, it takes the article a, and leaves nother to complete the phrase. Please don’t start calling me an a-whole.

So why not just say another whole pizza? Well, saying a-whole-nother pizza implies you’re talking about a different pizza entirely: Once the Hawaiians put pineapple on top, we were dealing with a-whole-nother pizza. If I instead said another whole, this would change the meaning to imply I was introducing an entire second pizza to the situation, instead of a different category of pizza. So, the word whole here modifies two different things entirely; in the another whole pizza instance, whole serves as a modifier of the noun pizza. When discussing a-whole-nother pizza, whole modifies another, indicating a new type, or category of pizza.

While I agree a-whole-nother looks ridiculous typed out (and even more so each subsequent time I do it), I can’t deny it’s accuracy in what I’m trying to communicate. And if you’re wondering what my opinions on other kinds of pizzas are, that’s a discussion for a-whole-nother column.