September 24, 2007

The ends to the means

Kevin Millwood, Texas Rangers winning pitcher, who had just pitched 7 innings of shut-out ball, is quoted as follows:

"I've been working on stuff all year and felt like I've been improving," Millwood said. "Today was kind of the ends to the means, I guess, to be able to go out and put everything I'm working on to use and come out on a good note."
- from Texas 3, Baltimore 0: Recap: By Stephen Hawkins, AP September 23, 2007

[Hyphen note for Arnold: I write "7 innings of shut-out ball", but "innings of shut-out ball" gets only 1980 Google hits vs. 32000 for "innings of shutout ball".]

A Google search on "ends to the means" claims about 21,600 hits. On the first page, all but one or two make normal sense:

- sacrificing the ends to the means
- adjusting the ends to the means at hand
- scale down the ends to the
[available, I suppose] means
- deal with the relation of the goals to the techniques, or the ends to the means, on each side
- shift your focus from the ends to the means

This next one seems "intermediate".
... it also deals with the idea that relationship is not the ends to the means; it is a means (a very important means) to an end.
This one apparently starts from the phrase "means to an end" and uses the reversed phrase "ends to the means" for contrast, a way to say that the relationship is not an end but a means. But the reversed phrase "ends to the means" is not an independently normal phrase: the noun "end" doesn't normally take a "to"-phrase complement. Means are means "to" some goal, but ends are the goals themselves: "To what end did he do that?"

One other example from the first page of Google results seems non-standard:
- time and time again we go through life searching for the ends to the means we try and after all ...
But this is part of some unpunctuated and unparsable 'poetic' writing, so I don't want to count it for too much and can't begin to guess what's going on in that writer's head.

But all those quotes, the normal ones and the questionable ones, show that the established collocation "means to an end" makes "ends to the mean" more likely to occur than it would be otherwise. And I suppose the quoted pitcher somehow produced a blend between that collocation and a sense of "end" as "end result" -- "the end result of all those efforts" then became "the ends to the means".

And note how he even ended up with plural "ends", which isn't common either for "end" as 'purpose' or "end" in 'end result'. Oh, wait, I just checked Google again: "to what ends" has 72k hits, and "to what end" has 558k. So plural "ends" is not so terribly uncommon, and putting ends and means together presumably helps to boost the plural use.

So in the end, although I don't think I could use that expression the way that pitcher did, I'm happy to defend it and it was fun to work out the means by which he might have come up with it.

Posted by Barbara Partee at September 24, 2007 02:09 AM