Are you in agreeance...or agreement?

By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, October 30, 2007 At 4:14 PM

When I was writing an article today, I used the word "agreeance," and Word automatically flagged it. I was flabbergasted. Although I don't believe I've actually used it in Word before, I know I've heard this word used before.

So I did what any good writer would do: I looked it up.

The first thing I came across was some tabloid-worthy controversy from 2003, when Fred Durst, of all people, used the word agreeance in a public statement...and was immediately blasted by the media and the blogosphere. Then the Oxford English Dictionary came to his rescue, and said yes, agreeance is actually a word... Albeit one that fell out of common use two and a half centuries ago.

Hmmmm. If agreeance is such an out-of-date word, why am I so familiar with it that I would use it on an instinctive level? (Note: I think for most writers, word choice is a highly instinctive process. Synonyms often carry slightly different shades of meaning, and I usually know which one best serves my intended meaning. The only time I use a thesaurus is when I know there's a better word for what I want to say, but I can't think of the precise one.)

I considered the possibility that I could be familiar with the word simply because I was a literature major, and therefore have read more of the classics than the average person. To test this theory, I asked my husband, who is pursuing a history major. Nope, he was familiar with the word too, and had no idea that the right to its existence is hotly contested.

If you read the opinions at the above link, you will see that some users have pointed out that agreeance is commonly used in Australia and New Zealand, while others devalue that usage by labeling it as "slang." I can't help but wonder if a word can really be "obsolete" and "slang" at the same time. Rather, wouldn't that simply mean that it's not obsolete, since it is still in use?

What are your thoughts? Is agreeance really a word? (For the record, I decided it was, and left it in my article; using agreement instead just didn't sound right.) Also, can you think of any other cases where "old-fashioned" words have been reinstated in modern language? I'm sure there must be others, but I can't think of any off the top of my head!

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Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

I say "agreement" -- "agreeance" is one of those words that makes me cringe, because it looks weird when I type it. Whether or not it's a bad word, I have no idea.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Yeah, it does look kind of weird. But sometimes it just sounds so right!

 
 
Anonymous Anonymous Says:  

I think agreeance makes you sound like you're the kind of person who doesn't care that the word you used is not REALLY a word - like when people use irregardless...

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

...Except that aggreeance really is a word, even if it's dated, whereas irregardless never was...

 
 
Blogger zuleika Says:  

Thank you for this article. I get blasted for using the word agreeance and always insist that it is a word. I have a Masters degree and have read it over and over in literature. Now if people will only stop saying texted and texting I'll be happy!

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Zuleika, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. However, I am not in agreeance with you regarding the words texted and texting. Language is a fluid thing and words are always coming into existence! Every word in our dictionary was new at one time -- and probably frowned on by someone, too. But the language will change anyway, whether we like it or not!

 
 
Anonymous Anonymous Says:  

I used the word "agreeance" during a business meeting some years back. When I was through making what I thought was an important point, a coworker offered a differing opinion adding, "...Besides Ben, agreeance isn't even a word"! She was proud of the fact that she had been an English major in college and never missed an opportunity to point that out. At the moment I thought I had made an ignorant mistake and was mortified! Unfortunately blew my cool. Of course I knew the proper word but, somehow, the word agreeance was what my brain locked on. Later, I looked the word up and researched its usage. I pointed out that, although it is an obsolete word it WAS indeed a word! But by that time it was too late, the damage had been done. I now realize that the reason the word is in my memory bank is from literature I have read. I have a background in the theater (MA in Dramatic Arts and stage director) and am sure I have directed period plays where the word "agreeance" appears in dialogue. So, I have not only read the word over and over but have heard the word in rehearsals repeated over and over. No wonder! But I wish I had realized all of this at the time. I think it's a great word and will continue to use it whether I mean to or not... but probably not at an ad agency meeting.

 
 
Blogger PMomah Says:  

The word 'agreeance' falls upon my sensitive ears much like chalk on a chalkboard.

 
 
Anonymous Anonymous Says:  

Apart from any literary "authority" on the words, to me the act of "agreeance" seems to "feel" more like it is a sort of "alliance" or "pact" with something, which is more than just agreeing with something.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Anonymous, I think that does the best job of explaining my own interpretation of the word. It's all about shades of meaning!

 
 
Blogger BIAS Brian Says:  

I am an English major who ended up being a newspaper publisher -- and trust me, the two have very little in common. I drive revenue, set advertising goals, cut costs, hire and fire employees and set marketing strategies (because the television won't tell you this, but newspapers are a business and a rather intensive one at the moment). I have little or nothing to do with news and editing, but I know how to do it. Still, I communicate for a living.

I say all of this to explain my background in making the following comments:
1) "Agreeance" is, indeed, a word.
2) It went out of common usage long before any of us came along.
3) It NEVER fails to mean the EXACT same thing as the word "agreement."
4) When I use the word "agreement" the meaning is clear. There are no conversations about its origin, no cell phones whipped out to use the dictionary function, no snickering about how I think I'm smarter than everyone else. None of that. It's just clear.

People (and by people I mean advertising sales representatives, editors and accountants, and others who communicate for a living) would think a person using these kinds of words was glib. And I must ask, why use the word "davenport" when I mean "sofa" or "couch"? My teenage daughters would say it makes you seem "smarticle" which is their way of saying you've done a nice job of alienating them by talking over their heads for no reason.

I am not bashing anyone who feels comfortable using "agreeance." I also realize language has a sound and a flow that cannot be measured in meaning alone. Still, I prefer clarity when communicating. "Agreeance" is for people who want folks to pull out their dictionaries (and that's not always a bad thing) and who subscribe to the "flow of language" theory. "Agreement" is for people seeking to be clear.

 
 
Blogger REASONable Bytes Says:  

I am here because I too used "agreeance" automatically and was surprised to see it flagged. I am pretty intelligent and well rounded, but by no way have the literary background of some of the posters above. I do however pride myself in using very specific words to more succinctly make my point (shades of meaning). To me, once you are in agreeance, you then have an agreement. Agreeance infers action, decision making. Agreement infers finality, documentation.

 

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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