John McWhorter, a Columbia U linguistics professor who hosts the excellent "Lexicon Valley" podcast, has on several occasions used the phrase a such thing where I would have said such a thing. I thought it odd enough to check Google Ngrams, which shows only one instance in print since the 1800s.

But it occurred to me that we routinely say "no such thing" or "any such thing", so "a such thing" isn't unreasonable. Is this a usage that's coming into vogue? If this were anyone else I'd just say he's mistaken, but I respect him and his credentials enough to doubt myself.

  • I wish there were no 'a such thing'... Apr 15, 2019 at 19:40
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    I think he's being clever. Like when a doctor who is about to inject you or take out a stitch says "You will feel a thing."
    – Mitch
    Apr 15, 2019 at 19:47
  • @Mitch - Possibly, but he uses it casually, with no indication that he's being sly or clever. Like: "if there's a such thing as a neutral observer" or similar. Dialect, maybe?
    – Jim Mack
    Apr 15, 2019 at 22:21

1 Answer 1


Looking at google search results, it does appear that people use a such thing the same way as such a thing. I don't think people are joking when they use this either, as it is appearing in news headlines. This is likely a new usage coming about, like you said.

  • That's interesting, and it does align with the way the prof uses it. Thanks for the google -- guess I should have done that first instead of Urban Dictionary.
    – Jim Mack
    Apr 17, 2019 at 0:54

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