Toby Young Toby Young

What is this word?

‘What are you writing?’ I asked my nine-year-old daughter as she sat at the kitchen table doing her homework.

‘A recount,’ she said.

‘What’s a recount?’

She looked at me with utter disdain. ‘Duh! A recount.’

I calmly explained that you could recount an event in a piece of writing, but that didn’t make what you’d written a ‘recount’. The only sense in which you can use ‘recount’ as a noun is when referring to the act of recounting something.

‘What’s this then?’ she said, waving a piece of paper in my face. Sure enough, the exercise she’d been given by her teacher was to write a ‘recount’ of something that had happened to her the previous week.

‘It’s a mistake,’ I explained. ‘He’s mixing up ‘report’ and ‘account’.’

She shook her head with disbelief. Was I really that stupid? She then produced another piece of homework, this one written by my eight-year-old son. He, too, had been asked to provide his teacher with a ‘recount’.

‘This is amazing,’ I said, holding up the two pieces of paper. ‘It must be a school-wide error.’

‘It’s not a mistake, Dad,’ she said, returning to her homework. ‘Look it up in the dictionary.’

Being a bit of a nerd — and wanting to win the argument — I did. And, blow me, there it was. According to the OED, you can use ‘recount’ as a noun. It defines it as an ‘account, narrative, narration’ and includes an example of it being used in this way by Caxton in 1489: ‘And for the recounte of their adventure, they chased Sybyon.’

How did such an archaic usage become common practice at a primary school in Shepherd’s Bush? I did some research — or, rather, I asked my followers on Twitter — and discovered the answer.

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