The Grammarphobia Blog

It’s absolutely annoying!

Q: My pet peeve is about the now common use of the word “absolutely” to mean a simple “yes.” Does this annoy you too?

A: The other day I telephoned a business (let’s call it Acme Widget) and the women who picked up the phone said something unintelligible.

“Is this Acme?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she responded.

Does this annoy me? Absolutely! But it’s not a recent phenomenon.

The Oxford English Dictionary has published references dating back to the 19th century for “absolutely” used to mean yes or quite so. The OED describes the usage as a colloquialism of American origin.

The OED’s earliest citation comes from The American Claimant (1892) by Mark Twain. Other citations are in works by James Joyce, Alec Waugh, and Rex Stout.

Despite all the history, I’ll go with The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) on this one. American Heritage defines “absolutely” as definitely, completely, unquestionably, or in an absolute relationship.

Not yes!

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