Posting On By Accident

Celebrity gossip sites are often gold mines for grammatical errors. Writers may be hired more for their snark than their smarts, although some, happily, have both.

Today’s offender does not.

A certain starlet, writes a certain gossipmonger, did not get pregnant “on accident.”

On accident? ON ACCIDENT?! This is a mistake that teenagers make, not grown-up blogslaves! This is not just bad grammar, it’s inexcusable in a writer who has grown up writing English. How often do accidents happen? How many times a week are we exposed to the correct usage of “by accident” on the 10 o’clock news?

There are so many less painful ways to get across this information. The starlet’s pregnancy was no accident sounds particularly succinct to my ear. Or we can do Strunk & White a favor, dispense with the negatives and simply say that the pregnancy happened on purpose.

In researching this blog entry, I shuddered to find that the use of “on accident” instead of “by accident” is becoming more prevalent. Grammar Girl has a particularly clear-eyed (i.e., unmarred by prescriptivist paranoia) take on the whole thing. But I’m not the only one who finds “on accident” to be the grammatical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer uses “on accident” to humorously great effect in the voice of his non-native English narrator in Everything Is Illuminated (Google Books link).

Maybe in fifty years this expression will have become a normal alternative, but it still causes far too much controversy to be an acceptable usage right now. If “on accident” showed up in your writing, I’d correct it.


  • Annie Glimmerglass said:  
    (On 22 February 2008 at 11:51 PM)

    Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a newscaster, radio personality (even on NPR) or politician make some grammatical error that makes me fear for the English language. Like real breasts, the “real” English language soon will not be recognized as the real thing. Yikes!

  • Casey said:  
    (On 23 February 2008 at 5:56 AM)

    Thanks for your comment, Annie. You sound like a dyed-in-the-wool prescriptivist, so I fear you are destined for further disappointment. The nature of language is change; I don’t believe that we can define a “real” English language, only to determine what is commonly accepted among certain groups and what is not. That said, I do NOT accept “on accident.”

    I’m an editor: part of the purpose of this blog is to analyze what is currently regularized and what hasn’t yet become acceptable. Hence the last paragraph on this post.

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