And suddenly, "sudden" became a noun

Aug 24, 2014

Maybe you've done this: You have an acquaintance who's a specialist of some sort – like a doctor or a mechanic – and you ask for their advice, even though they're not on the job.

That often happens to University of English professor Anne Curzan. She specializes in linguistics, so when someone asks her the origin of a word or why its use has changed, she becomes a language detective.

Recently, a neighbor asked Curzan about how the word "sudden" became a noun, as in "all of a sudden."

"It's borrowed into English from the Anglo-Norman French," Curzan explains. "It shows up in the 14th century as an adjective, and by the 16th century, it's also being used as a noun in expressions like 'in the sudden' or 'of the sudden.' By the 17th century, you get the expression 'all of a sudden.'"

Another word that came across Anne's radar during her research is "haste."

"I feel comfortable with this as a noun, as in 'haste makes waste,'" Curzan says. "But an expression like 'in haste' feels like it's on the decline, as is the expression 'make haste.'"

Let us know if there's a language question that's been vexing you!