Everything Language and Grammar

Meantime, the Controversy Rages

Posted by languageandgrammar on March 16, 2009

Fine,  it’s not a major controversy, but I figured I would need a sensationalistic headline in order to get any but the most grammar- and language-obsessed among us to read about the proper use of meantime and meanwhile. It’s not exactly the type of debate that will keep people talking for hours, but it is annoying to hear the two being used interchangeably, especially the use of meantime at the beginning of a sentence.

I know.  I know. That simple statement–that meanwhile and meantime should not be used interchangeably–resulted in our descriptivist friends (Wait, do we even have any descriptivist friends? Ahh–probably not) to fall off their chairs in horror since the two words are often used interchangeably. If you believe that common usage is reason enough for you to use something, then please feel free to continue to do so; however, this languageandgrammar.com author was taught that the words have subtle differences in meanings.

Meantime means intervening time, and meanwhile means in the intervening time. The only difference between the two is the lonely, little words in the. Since meanwhile has in the built into its meaning, it should not have an in the in front of it when being used; however, since meantime does not have an in the built into its meaning, it does need to have those words added when needed. This is best explained through examples:

Meantime, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is incorrect just as Intervening time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my arguments would be incorrect.

Meawhile, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is correct just as In the intervening time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my arguments would be correct.

Along the same lines…

In the meantime, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is correct since it means In the intervening time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument.

And…

In the meanwhile, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument is incorrect since it means In the in the interverning time, descriptivists are writing comments to counter my argument, which has one too many in the‘s.

–Paul

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3 Responses to “Meantime, the Controversy Rages”

  1. David Johnstone said

    On the old Batman TV series wasn’t it “meantime back at the Batcave” and not “meanwhile back at the Batcave”

    Reply from Paul: I don’t know (didn’t watch Batman), but television is not what I use as a grammar resource. 🙂

  2. Lemrin said

    I prefer “mediantime” and “medianwhile.”

    Can I get a rim shot, please?

  3. Carey said

    I am so pleased to see someone speaking out about this. It drives me crazy to hear seemingly intelligent people – more recently some of the top names in journalism (e.g. Brian Williams and Ann Curry, just to name a few) begin sentences with “Meantime”. Is it simply because it’s become trendy and acceptable or have people come to realize it’s quicker and a tad bit easier to get the word “Meantime” out of their mouth than “Meanwhile” (the “while” part of “Meanwhile” requires a real forward extension of the lips to annunciate it correctly). Nonetheless, it is a misuse of the English language and it should be pointed out to people – especially those who are held in such high regard.

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