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Now then, or Now, then, ...

Posted by Smokey Stover on November 18, 2007

In Reply to: [Deleting an accidental quotation mark] posted by pamela on November 17, 2007

: : : : 'Now then'. As in 'Now then, let's see who can answer this question'.

: : : : Surely an oxymoron or a redundancy or both. Does anyone know hoe it originated?

: : : I don't know its origin. If its "then" is the "then" of causation rather than the "then" of time, there's no redundancy or contradiction. "Now, in view of what went before, let's see who..."

: : : This "now" isn't particularly temporal, either. It acts as a divider between parts of a discourse, as in the following made-up example, where "now" can't possibly mean "at the present": "The legislature is considering a tax increase to take place the year after next. Now, according to economists, if taxes rise, investment will..."

: : : So the problem dissolves if you construe "now" and "then" using other senses of those words.

: : : In writing, "Now then" needs a comma in its middle. ~rb

: As "a divider between parts of a discourse" it's pretty interchangable with "Right, then ...", or "Right, now ..." or "OK, so ...". all of which I have a habit (probably bad) of saying when training people. Pamela

The Oxford English Dictionary gives examples of "Now then" from as early as Old English (although the spelling was a bit different), subsumed under "now," with the general rubric:

"II. With temporal sense weakened or lost.

5. a. In sentences expressing a command or request, or in a question, giving any of various tones (exclaiming, reproving, soothing, etc.)."

and more specifically:

"b. Similarly now then. Freq. used to introduce a command, or as a mild reproof.
OE Blickling Homilies 237 Nu ponne aris & gang on oa ceastre to Matheum pinum breper. a1382 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Bodl. 959) 1 Kings xv. 3 Now panne go & smyt spare pou to hym. c1395 CHAUCER Summoner's Tale D. 2141 Now thanne put thyn hand doun my bak..and grope wel bihynde Bynethe my buttok. . . ."

In the examples which follow, "Now then" is usually followed by a comma, once by a period.

A slightly different use of "now then" is also identified.

"6. Introducing an important or noteworthy point in an argument or proof, or in a series of statements. Also now then. . .

1624 BP. F. WHITE Replie to Iesuit Fishers Answere 323 Now then I subsume, no religious due to Saints."

The OED does not often explain how separate words, with separate meanings, came to be conjoined in phrases. In regard to "then" it has this to say:

"5. (As a particle of inference, often unemphatic or enclitic.) That being the case; since that is so; on that account; therefore, consequently, as may be inferred; so. now then: see NOW 9b."