"Please resume to your normal activities"

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I'm staying for a couple of days in a hotel in NYC, in an incredibly expensive tiny room.

Last night, a few minutes past midnight, alarms went off in the hallway outside the room: very loud blats and whoops, in somewhat irregular sequences and intervals. It wasn't exactly what I expect for a fire alarm, but it was clearly meant to be alarming, so I got dressed to evacuate.

Just as I finished, a loud loudspeaker-y voice came on: "Your attention please. Your attention please."

Then more blats and whoops.

Since I didn't smell smoke, I decided to take a minute to pack up my computer and medicines, while the blats and whoops continued. But as I finished, the voice came back: "Your attention please. Your attention please. This is your safety director. We have determined that this situation is not an emergency — please resume to your normal activities."

So I got undressed again. But the (apparently recorded) voice repeated the message, interspersed with more bouts of blats and whoops, for another hour or so. It finally ended at some point between 1:30 and 2:00am, and I finally was able to go back to sleep.

But this is Language Log, not Incompetent Alarm Silencing Log, so my focus is on the unexpected (to me) preposition to in the phrase "resume to your normal activities".

There's some precedent for it — a Google search for "resume to your normal activities" claims "about 5,750 results", mostly in medical contexts.

The OED's entry for resume v. has

(a) transitive. To begin again or continue (a practice, occupation, course, etc.) after interruption. Also with †to.

But the only example with to is not very convincing:

1617 tr. H. Ronsovius De Valetudine Conseruanda 46 in J. Harington tr. Englishmans Doctor (new ed.) In the morning when you rise againe, resume to your selues your former dayes thoughts and cares.

So I'm not sure whether this is a currently-standard usage in the health and security fields, or just a mistake as a fancy substitute for "return to". In any case, it was new to me.



  1. Cervantes said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 7:01 am

    Like half of English words, resume is actually French, and it's essentially unchanged from the Latin. It originally meant something closer to "repossess," and in that archaic sense may have taken an intransitive form, i.e. "resume to yourself" as in the example. But by the late 15th Century it had taken on its modern meaning of "recommence" and is always intransitive. info here

    [(myl) "Always intransitive"? I don't think so, and neither do the OED, Merriam-Webster, Wiktionary, and the other users of the English language. Did you mean something else?]

  2. Tom Dawkes said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 10:32 am

    But — pace Cervantes — 'resume' is active even in this 1617 example. It can be rewritten as "In the morning when you rise againe, resume your former dayes thoughts and cares to your selues", where it seems to have the sense of "return to".

    [(myl) Exactly. That's what I meant by observing that the 1617 example is not evidence for "resume to NP" meaning "resume NP".]

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 11:37 am

    Surely the most parsimonious explanation is that the announcement was not scripted by a native speaker (even if the robot voice has a native-speaker accent) and no one ran it by a native speaker before bringing the alarm system to market?

    [(myl) I don't think so, because the voice had a pronounced New York accent, and none of the little signs of current text-to-speech technology.]

  4. John Swindle said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 4:02 pm

    They can't decide between "return to your normal activities" and "resume your normal activities," so they accidentally combine them. It's a native-speaker error. They're in a stressful situation and trying to reproduce the awkward formality of signs from building management.

  5. Philip Anderson said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 4:21 pm

    I think the most natural wording would be “please return to your normal activities”; ‘resume’ sounds more literary to me. Maybe it was written by an L2 speaker as J.W. Brewer suggests, or someone trying to be more formal but getting things the options mixed up?

    [(myl) That makes sense — but the Google search link I posted suggests that the "mix-up" is widespread enough to maybe become marginally standard.]

  6. Rick Rubenstein said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 6:37 pm

    Irrespective of grammar, it's a pretty presumptuous message. What if you had been glueing rose petals onto the snout of a live otter when the alarm went off? How would you resume "normal activities" then, I ask?

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 6:50 pm

    If you actually start paging through the results, the "about 5,600" hits (that's what it told me although myl got "about 5,750") turn out to be "about 103." In other words, when you get to the 11th page of hits it isn't full, and there isn't a 12th page. I don't find that enough instances to suggest "marginally standard,' but YMMV. Switching pronouns, there are "about 19" hits (originally billed if you don't page through as "about 298" for "resume to her normal activities" and "about 12" hits (originally billed as "about 400" ditto) for "resume to his normal activities."

    I will defer to myl's superior diagnosis of this being apparently unscripted speech by an L1 Anglophone. All I would add is that the sort of people in NYC in that "safety director" role tend to be retired FDNY firefighters, so maybe there's some cultural thing parallel to the stereotypically weird way cops sometimes speak ("the vehicle proceeded in a westerly direction") when striving for an official-sounding register? Or maybe just a pure production error as suggested by other commenters.

  8. John Swindle said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 9:51 pm

    @J. W. Brewer: I had missed the fact that the voice sounded recorded. That makes your suggestion that it was officialese more likely than the one-off production error I had suggested. As for it becoming standard, I think I’ll resume my normal activities instead of waiting.

  9. Bob Ladd said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 1:55 am

    I also support the "trying to sound official" explanation. A few days ago I noticed a help-wanted sign in a shop window in our neighourhood – neatly laid out and printed on a computer, but clearly the work of the shop owner. The final two lines, centred, in a large font, said "ASK WITHIN". I presume that in the intended font there wasn't room for "ENQUIRE", but it still preserved the formal-sounding "WITHIN", which struck me as odd. If I had been preparing the sign I probably would have style-shifted down to "ASK INSIDE".

  10. Keith said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 1:56 am

    I think it's a recorded message by an L1 speaker who has either misread the scripted text or was given a text containing a hypercorrection error, combining (as pointed out by other players) "return to" and "resume".

  11. Marianne Hundt said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 5:06 am

    Analogical extension of prepositions to semantically/phonologically related verbs is not unusual in English, I'd say. I recently heard a historian (on a podcast) talking about "to grasp with" in a context where "to grapple with" would have made sense, too.
    It might also be relevant that 'resume to' has an earlier use as a verb of communication, where use of TO is common (see some of the earlier examples in COHA for RESUMED).
    Also from COHA, a more recent find of the pattern where it's semantically closer to 'return to':
    "The lowered conversations behind us resumed to normalcy as we munched, if not companionably, at least without sniping at each other." (COHA, 2013, FIC)
    In our project on repositions in English argument structure, we're looking at all sorts of factors that influence these kinds of patterns, including language contact (over-estimated, if you ask me) and analogical extension, both from related verbs and nouns (much more likely, across time and space) and competition.
    Simply assuming that they are 'errors' and trying to explain them away that way isn't particularly illuminating, I think.

  12. Cervantes said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 7:45 am

    Sorry. I meant transitive of course.

  13. Jason Merchant said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 1:47 pm

    A selected preposition from a more common (near contextual) synonym replaces the subcategorization frame of a less-used (perhaps higher register) root: as others have pointed out, it's "return to" with "return" replaced by the more formal sounding "resume". I think this is the same thing that has happened to "agree to" and "acquiesce in": a growing usage is "to" with "acquiesce", and I think it's because people parse "acquiesce" as a high-falutin' way of saying "agree". Google n-gram strangely seems to find no "acquiesce to", but regular google turns up plenty of them.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 23, 2022 @ 1:39 pm

    I agree that the line between an "error" and a variant is a fuzzy one, and an error that prospers sufficiently will become a variant. But such errors themselves are not just random noise – they often involve a false-but-plausible analogy to a construction that does work with a similar (phonologically, semantically, or both) verb, which is one of the same processes that gives rise to variants and innovations-that-stick.* In the google n-gram corpus, "resumption of normal" is overwhelmingly (multiple orders of magnitude) more common than "resumption to normal," but there are indeed some instances of the latter. Someone could look at that ratio in other corpora and see if it's suggestive of anything.

    *Which English verbs can or must take which sort of argument structure is not particularly intuitive in terms of some sort of grand overall pattern even to a native speaker – you just accumulate lots of lexeme-specific facts about specific verbs and maybe (or maybe not!) also develop a sense that it's hazardous to generalize as if there were some grand pattern that all the lexeme-specific data was just the output of.

  15. JPL said,

    May 28, 2022 @ 2:29 am

    Sorry to arrive at the party after all the guests have gone home. Here are some observations, FWIW. (No doubt it needs a lot more clarification and background to make sense, but this is all I can fit into this little box.)

    1. Please resume to your normal activities.
    2. return to
    3. revert to
    4. go back to

    What all these examples have in common is that they express that the speaker understands the objective situation described as having properties conforming to the order relation we could call "source- goal with reversibility" (as opposed to reflexivity), movement from a situation [a] to a different situation [b], and then back to [a] again, where [a] is equivalent to [a] in relevant respects, and a directionality of "direct-inverse". As a metaphorical prototype we could have, "Pilar was hiking along the trail; at one point she left the trail and wandered into the woods; after a few minutes she returned to the trail": a to b, and back to a. (Leonard Talmy made much use of the notion of "path" some years ago.) The source-goal order schema is a very basic component involved in the expression and understanding of a variety of formal and referential relations, such as equivalence and functional dependency, in both syntactic schemata and lexical items. So the puzzle here is why did 'resume' not participate originally in this schema (I would agree that the OED example is not a relevant example for this problem.), or at least why has "resume to" been the less dominant variant?

    In contrast to the above, the typical use of 'resume' would be something like,
    5. Pilar was walking along the trail and stopped to rest; after a few minutes she resumed walking.
    Similarly, 6. Pilar was walking along the trail and stopped to rest; after a few minutes she continued walking. ('resume' requires the negation segment; 'continue' does not.)
    Use of 'to' in this context would seem odd: 7. Pilar was walking along the trail and stopped to rest; after a few minutes she resumed to walking.
    Use of 'return' in this context seems a little off: 8. Pilar was walking along the trail and stopped to rest; after a few minutes she returned to walking.
    (And 'return' here is not possible without the "to".)

    What these cases lack is applicability of the source-goal order schema, as well as the reversibility element (a to b, and then back to a), where [b] is a different activity, a departure from the path and back to the source. You have only a succession of segments, activity [a], then no activity [a], then activity [a] again. The contrast between 1-4 and 5-8 is that in the one the situation referred to is understood as conforming to the order schema of source-goal with reversibility, while in the other it is not, but only a unidimensional sequence of presence and negation and presence. So it looks like in 1 – 4 the source-goal with reversibility syntactic schema was intended as a description of the situation, and in 1 the "wrong" lexical item was selected to fill that "terminal node". Anyway, that would be my hypothesis. I would predict that most cases of "resume to" in the data would be like 1, and that cases like 7 would be rare or nonexistent. By this hypothesis, "resume to", the inclusion of 'to' in 1, is due to the application of a syntactic schema, and not primarily due to something about the combinatory possibilities of the lexical item, even though continued use of 'resume' in contexts like 1 would change the combinatory possibilities of the lexical item.

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