I was listening to commentary on a women’s US Open tennis semifinal match, and one of the women was described as “playing at a whole nother level.” I remember being in a car (with someone, going somewhere) when I was in my late twenties and saying “whole nother” myself one day. I said it, and then made a mental note that nother wasn’t a word and I shouldn’t be saying it. I slipped on several occasions after that—but I always seemed to be aware of it, and I gradually worked myself out of the habit. (I have no idea what prompted me to be aware of it at that particular point in my life.)
I have never written whole nother, but it’s one of those things that’s easier to say than the correct whole other—just because of the way our tongues move in our mouths between the first and second syllables. I don’t think anybody ever fails to understand its meaning either. So—is it wrong?
I find this interesting because most dictionaries base their inclusion of words on common written usage, not on common verbal usage. But I’d argue that in terms of verbal communication (based at least on a quite possibly incorrect assumption on my part as to how common it actually is) nother (at least as part of the phrase whole nother) should be considered a perfectly acceptable word. Even if it’s not one I use.
What I find even more interesting is my conclusion that it’s not a valid written word, but it seems to be a valid spoken word. This implies that our verbal language is not actually the same as our written language, even though we normally think there is a one to one correspondence between the two.
In one of those moments that always catches me by surprise, I’ve discovered it’s a misconception that nother isn’t a word. It actually is. I just looked it up at Merriam-Webster. However, it’s still somewhat nonstandard, and it at least sounds strange to me.