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how come?

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how come?

Postby KatyBr » Thu Mar 02, 2006 4:23 pm

This seems like the silliest of phrases if read independantly, but is easily understood, if awkward, used in the context of questioning motives etc. in a conversation. I prefer Why? but often people will say 'Why' when they mean "What do you mean?" or "What are you talking about?" or some really specific question they are posing to a multiple phrase statement, rendering the "why" meaningless.
i.e.
A:I'm going to find out the route to my boss's house and give him a piece of my mind.
B: why? (do you see what I mean?)
A:There are three people I need to contact for my party plans.
B: why? (I would prefer B said "What party?" or "Guests or caterers?" or anything besides "Why."
Comments?

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Postby Brazilian dude » Thu Mar 02, 2006 7:00 pm

I like how come, use it myself and don't have anything against it.

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Postby KatyBr » Thu Mar 02, 2006 7:27 pm

It sounds awkward don't you think? and think of those two words, do they mean what you are saying?

Kt
I use it too, but I'm looking for a better phrase, swankier if you will.
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Postby Brazilian dude » Thu Mar 02, 2006 7:53 pm

how come How come is a familiar phrase of obscure origin that first came to attention as an Americanism in the middle of the 19th century. We say "of obscure origin" because for a a time there was considerable speculation about its origin. Interest in its origin seems to have waned in the last half century.

Krapp 1927 labels it colloquial and slang; Evans 1957, Bernstein 1965, and Haper 1975, 1985 find how come unsuitable in writing. Reader's Digest 1983 dismisses it as "informal only." Garner 1998 calls it "very informal." Flesch 1964 finds it an acceptable and useful idiom, however, and Safire 1982 defends it spiritedly against Bernstein, Evans, and Harper, as well as a couple of correspondents.

How come is a little bit like the verb bust: its use in writing is on a higher level than its use in speech seems to be - it is a social climber in print. Its rise in respectability probably started after World War II. We have many journalistic examples:

And yet for all this self-indugence, he has managed somehow to achieve what Max Beerbohm called in his own case "a very pleasant little reputation." How come? - Joseph Wood Krutch, Saturday Rev., 30 Jan. 1954

... and how come he's our moral tutor in this fear-and loathing tour of the Clinton sex scandals? - Christopher Hitchess, N.Y. Times Book Rev., 30 July 2000

If you use a laptop, you will recall gratefully that it does not matter whether the electrical source is 220 volts or 110, you just plug it in. How come? - William F. Buckley, Jr., National Rev., 29 Sept. 1997

And, for that matter, how come they never have donuts in Peking...? - And More by Andy Rooney, 1992

Construction was obviously not stone, but iron. How come? - Edwards Park, Smithsonian, February 1985

... how come British rock and rollers ... have such admirable longevity compared to American counterparts...? - Jay McInerney, Times Literary Suppl., 27 July-2 Aug. 1990

Writers simply seem to find how come a sassier - Safire says "nastier" - and more emphatic why. We have not yet found it in surroundings more elevated than those we have quoted.[/quote]
From Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage

How come reminds me of Portuguese cadê (with its variants quedê and quede). These words derive from que é (feito)? (roughly: "what has become of") and is a good alternative to the drab onde está/onde estão standard question (where is/where are). It seems particularly apt when you want to find something quickly in an emergency, as when you're ready to board a plane and don't know where your boarding card is: cadê meu cartão de embarque?. This word is so popular that there's even a Brazilian search engine that goes by Cadê.

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Postby JJ » Wed Mar 15, 2006 2:14 am

At the risk of pedantry, or of posting something intuitively obvious to the casual observer, here's what I "hear" when I hear "how come?": "How [did it] come [to be that] he's not going?"

B-Dude, will any of your sources corroborate that, or anything near it?

Does shortening a formal-sounding phrase necessarily make it colloquial, or slang? (I agree, it's informal.)

"How do you do?"->"Howdy do?"->"Howdy."->"Hidey."->"Hi." Thinking about it too much makes "hi" sound funny...but we use it and love it, and likewise, "how come?" Right?
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Postby Brazilian dude » Wed Mar 15, 2006 8:21 am

Nope, but that's my feeling too: How [did it] come [to be that].

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Postby Brazilian dude » Wed Mar 15, 2006 8:45 am

How come reminds me of two Germanic expressions: German Wie kommt es and Dutch Hoe komt het. There must be a link.

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Postby Stargzer » Wed Mar 15, 2006 12:07 pm

I'm thinking it comes from "How comes it?" A rather quick search through some of The Bard's work on Gutneberg.org:

William Shakespeare
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

Act II, Scene 2

ADRIANA. Ay, ay, Antipholus, look strange and frown.
Some other mistress hath thy sweet aspects;
I am not Adriana, nor thy wife.
The time was once when thou unurg'd wouldst vow
That never words were music to thine ear,
That never object pleasing in thine eye,
That never touch well welcome to thy hand,
That never meat sweet-savour'd in thy taste,
Unless I spake, or look'd, or touch'd, or carv'd to thee.
How comes it now, my husband, O, how comes it,
That thou art then estranged from thyself?


THE TRAGEDY OF CORIOLANUS

Act III, Scene 1

SICINIUS. Sir, how comes't that you
Have holp to make this rescue?


CYMBELINE

Act I, Scene 4

IACHIMO. Ay, and the approbation of those that weep this lamentable
divorce under her colours are wonderfully to extend him, be it
but to fortify her judgment, which else an easy battery might lay
flat, for taking a beggar, without less quality. But how comes it
he is to sojourn with you? How creeps acquaintance?
PHILARIO. His father and I were soldiers together, to whom I have
been often bound for no less than my life.


Act V, Scene 5

POSTHUMUS. How comes these staggers on me?


THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK

Act II, Scene 2
Ham. How comes it? Do they grow rusty?


THE FIRST PART OF KING HENRY THE FOURTH

Act V, Scene 1

Wor. Hear me, my liege.
For mine own part, I could be well content
To entertain the lag-end of my life
With quiet hours; for I do protest
I have not sought the day of this dislike.
King. You have not sought it! How comes it then,
Regards//Larry

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
-- Attributed to Richard Henry Lee
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Postby Brazilian dude » Wed Mar 15, 2006 6:42 pm

I'm thinking it comes from "How comes it?"

Which fits in nicely together with German and Dutch.

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Postby anders » Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:30 pm

Stargzer wrote:I'm thinking it comes from "How comes it?"

Close to Swedish as well: Hur kommer det sig att ..., word by word, is 'How comes it itself that ...'.
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