The romantic notion that all malefactors are depraved on accounta they’re deprived has worn thin among experts and laypeople alike.

I found this sentence in a Steven Pinker's book (The Blank Slate). I struggle to understand the meaning of "on accounta", I did not find any definition.

Any idea what it could mean?

EDIT: StoneyB found the context of this expression which has been used few pages before.

In a New Yorker cartoon, a woman on a witness stand says, “True, my husband beat me because of his childhood; but I murdered him because of mine.” In the comic strip Non Sequitur, the directory of a mental health clinic reads: “1st Floor: Mother's Fault. 2nd Floor: Father's Fault. 3rd Floor: Society's Fault.” And who can forget the Jets in West Side Story, who imagined explaining to the local police sergeant, “We're depraved on accounta we're deprived”?

  • 1
    It could be a typo. There exists a phrase "on account of". I'm unsure though whether we could get a grammatical sentence by simply replacing "on accounta" with "on account of". Feb 6, 2015 at 10:57
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    @CopperKettle - If the sentence is the book resides inside quotation marks, then I'd understand why the author would "wanna" write it that way. To the O.P.: Is it a character's quote?
    – J.R.
    Feb 6, 2015 at 11:01
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    @J.R. - Nice point! I also thought of this, but I thought that the style would be untypical for Steven Pinker (although I haven't read his books). I shoulda mentioned it though: it indeed works good as an analogue of "wanna", "gotta" etc. Feb 6, 2015 at 11:04
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    @CopperKettle - All the more reason we often plead for "Details, Please." It would be a courtesy to mention things like the title of the book, the surrounding context, and maybe even a note about whether the book is a work of fiction or non-fiction. All of that data can help frame a question into something more answerable, without other members needing to do all that research on their own just to figure out the answer. (Incidentally, questions including that kind of background information are much more likely to get one of my upvotes.)
    – J.R.
    Feb 6, 2015 at 11:09
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    @CopperKettle you are right, I should have added more context. I thought the sentence was enough since I was looking for a word definition, but in this case the context was definitely needed. I apologize for that mistake.
    – JinSnow
    Feb 13, 2015 at 8:40

3 Answers 3


This is an instance of eye dialect, which Wikipedia describes admirably:

Eye dialect is the use of nonstandard spelling for speech to draw attention to an ironically standard pronunciation. The term was coined by George P. Krapp to refer to the literary technique of using nonstandard spelling that implies a pronunciation of the given word that is actually standard, such as wimmin for women; the spelling indicates that the character's speech overall is dialectal, foreign, or uneducated. [...] It is dialect to the eye rather than to the ear. It suggests that a character "would use a vulgar pronunciation if there were one" and "is at the level of ignorance where one misspells in this fashion, hence mispronounces as well."

In this particular case, Pinker is quoting (not quite accurately) a brilliant lyric by Stephen Sondheim from West Side Story, in which gang members act out their relations with Authority:

SNOWBOY (still acting part of Judge)(spoken)
Hear ye, Her ye! In the opinion
Of this court, this child is
Depraved on account he ain’t had a normal home.

RIFF (spoken)
Hey, I’m depraved on account I’m deprived!

The lyric may be found here; the song itself is performed in the movie version here.


This is definitely "on account of". Surprisingly, it appears to be more common in colloquial than expected:

And so on.


It actually is on account of, which means for the sake of, because of, by reason of, like in sposta which means supposed to.

This is a way through which the author voluntarily drops some sounds (especially consonants) trying to express the spoken English of some places.

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