Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wonderings and Googlings (Wherein I wonder about words, then I Google them)


vicious circle = 2,430,000 hits

vicious cycle = 2,111,000 hits

According to Garner's Modern American Usage, "Vicious circle is the phrase with the stronger precedent to support it. The OED records it from 1792 in the sense 'a situation in which an action and reaction intensify each other.' Vicious cycle isn't recorded in the OED."

Garner is more accepting than the Oxford English Dictionary. He says that both forms are okay. However, he notes, "vicious circle is about 40% more common than vicious cycle in modern print sources."

Apparently, Internet users aren't as partial toward "circle" as Garner's print sources.

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6 comments:

Joel said...

I'm a big fan of etymology and of understanding something from the perspective of its origins, but I'd have to say that "cycle" just makes more sense to me, whichever came first. "Circle" evokes static geometry, with faint echoes of sacred timelessness in space. "Cycle" sounds more like movement and a process and, yeah, something corrupted by entropy.

June Casagrande said...

Me, I'm a circle girl.

I have this thing -- a thing that I think I notice in others, too -- in which I just get attached to the first way I learned to do something. I still cringe a little when I see "momma" or "mamma" instead of "mama" -- even though that's just my preference.

An argument in favor of circle, however, is that cycles end. Circles don't. Therefore, circle better describes a state of being stuck.

But the reason I looked this up is that, while I learned circle, neither seems right anymore. I haven't used the term with confidence in either form in a long time.

Joel said...

I think I understand. Actually, what you're saying about circles and cycles fits well in my world view. I like to think that even the viciousest cycle can and will be broken. :-)

It's maybe the difference between intense frustration and absolute despair, between apparent impossibility and irredeemable damnation.

June Casagrande said...

Yup. The parallels fit all right.

I'm pro despair. I'm at peace with the utter hopelessness of everything.

: )

Blackwell said...

I'm a cycle girl. I just like the sound of it better. The "r" in circle just totally interrupts the flow.

But I think maybe it's also because that's the way I learned it. Oh well.

June Casagrande said...

In cases like this, it becomes easy to see why some people are drawn toward strict pedantry. I had started out thinking one was definitely right and the other wrong.

There's a comfort in absolutes. And language, in cases like these, offers no such comforts.

Cycles and circles for all!

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