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This question came to my mind after seeing this tweet from an online acquaintance:

The use of learning as a noun makes me ill. Maybe someone gained their learnings about language from corporate Borat.

Is the word learning used as a noun not correct English? If so, what are the words one should be using to express the same intended meaning?

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@missingfaktor: It really is. What if Twitter goes down? –  Noah Nov 16 '12 at 6:54
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Yes. Your question is currently unclear and not useful. There is no assurance that the tweet will exist tomorrow either ... –  coleopterist Nov 16 '12 at 6:54
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You should've quoted (cut & pasted) your OA's tweet. Not a big deal. Links are really for stuff that's too long to quote or too graphical to paste in the Q-box. I have trouble pasting graphics, so I'm sympathetic about that problem. At least coleopterist gave you a reason for the downvote, which is more than many or most users here will do. Be grateful for small favors rather than resentful for what is surely meant as a constructive criticism. This isn't an EFL site, so most of the users don't have that soft, fuzzy, often cloyingly overly friendly attitude that TOEFL teachers frequently do. –  user21497 Nov 16 '12 at 6:58
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Your friend is even more opinionated about English usage than I am. What does he or she ascribe that unfortunate allergic reaction to? Your next email to him or her should ask. And AFAIC, Borat's English is not at all bad. At least he's understandable and sometimes funny. –  user21497 Nov 16 '12 at 7:01
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@BillFranke, I'll link him to this thread. :) –  missingfaktor Nov 16 '12 at 7:07
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

That is ill-informed nonsense. Of course it’s a noun. Point the tweeter in the direction of Alexander Pope’s couplet, both for the usage and the sentiment:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

It is not entirely clear whether the tweeter had the plural form particularly in mind, but, if so, its use is not unprecedented. In Cymbeline, I. i. 43 the First Gentleman says:

The king . . . Puts to him all the Learnings that his time Could make him the receiuer of.

Francis Bacon uses it at least twice:

Particular and positive learnings of lawes doe easily decline from a good temper of iustice.

and

He did send his diuine truth into the world, wayted on with other Learnings.

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Notice the OP said learnings, as a count noun. That sounds like corporate Borat to me, too. And we no longer have students: we have learners, who go to trainings, and having finished those, get to chalk up another learning to their annual learnings list come evaluation time. It is. . . not to my likings . –  tchrist Nov 16 '12 at 8:38
    
@tchrist: Thank you. I have edited my post to take account of the point. –  Barrie England Nov 16 '12 at 9:00
    
@tchrist On a different note: Nice you brought up " trainings " -- I was about to pan a certain company for "organizing corporate trainings" -- am I on strong footing so I could point out their "error"? –  Kris Nov 16 '12 at 14:17
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@Kris:'It appeareth, that..it is needfull to learne certaine things, and to be instructed and trained in the same, and that these instructions and trainings be vndertaken for their sakes which learn.' (1598). –  Barrie England Nov 16 '12 at 14:25
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Which implies, I can say trainings just as much as I can safely say learne, certaine or vndertaken today. –  Kris Nov 16 '12 at 14:28
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It's perfectly correct English. "Learning" is a gerund, a verbal noun:

MW3UDE: Main Entry:learning Function:noun Inflected Form:-s Usage:often attributive Etymology:Middle English lerning, from Old English leornung, from leornian to learn + -ung -ing

1 a (1) : the act or experience of one that learns the learning of a trade *gives T evidence of trial-and-error learning in paramecia— W.N.Kellogg* learning may be regarded as a property of all living organisms— R.C.Noble *learning experiences* (2) : the process of acquisition and extinction of modifications in existing knowledge, skills, habits, or action tendencies in a motivated organism through experience, practice, or exercise — compare MATURATION b (1) : something that is learned or taught increasing the practical value of the learnings— H.R.Douglass *the film does provide learnings— Catherine M. Adler*; specifically : a subject that is taught in school emphasize the mastery of essential learnings— M.B.Smith (2) obsolete : ACQUIREMENT

2 a : knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study : ERUDITION book learning *a man of good education and learning— Jonathan Swift* obtuseness in perception can never be made good by any amount of learning— John Dewey b : knowledge accumulated and handed down by generations of scholars : CULTURE learning is a sacred deposit from the experience of ages— William Hazlitt *Assyrian learning of the seventh century B.C. is well represented— H.J.J.Winter*

3 dialect : formal education : SCHOOLING synonyms see KNOWLEDGE

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No, you do not have learnings as a count noun. That is hardly what I would call “perfectly correct English”. To the contrary, in fact. –  tchrist Nov 16 '12 at 8:42
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Your friend is probably fed up with learning. According to OED and NOAD, learning is a perfectly normal noun.

learning |ˈlərniNG|
noun
the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, or study, or by being taught: these children experienced difficulties in learning | [ as modifier ] : an important learning process.
• knowledge acquired in this way: I liked to parade my learning in front of my sisters.
ORIGIN Old English leornung (see learn,-ing1).

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