Alison Dye’s novel The Sense of Things (1994) has a conversation between the narrator, Joanie, and her friend-to-be, Jesus, in which Jesus nervously corrects himself twice in an effort to speak more properly.
Joanie has gone to Jesus to order new flooring for the shop she works in, and Jesus is explaining the sheet approach to her:
‘Installation is slightly easier with the sheeting and therefore cuts down on your labour costs. We would unroll it and cut as we go, from the wall out. However, with a sheet you are stuck with the one colour or print except for the borders which you can be a little creative with, if you like. I mean, with which.’ He coughed.
After a brief exchange about the relative advantages of tiles, Jesus continues:
‘I like to advise customers that the replacement tiles will always be slightly different in shade than – I mean from, sorry – the original because of wear and tear.’
So we have preposition stranding (which you can be creative with vs. with which you can be creative) and idiomatic variation (different than vs. different from) deployed as usage shibboleths which the speaker rewords to present himself more professionally. He code-switches awkwardly and self-consciously.
The author’s use of preposition stranding for this purpose is unremarkable, since it’s one of the best known historical usage disputes, a source of contention ever since John Dryden invented the rule in the 17th century.
Different than as a style peeve is far less notorious, and is therefore more interesting here. If you were asked to name a dozen ways someone might correct their own speech in order to sound more proper, I suspect few would include different than – though it was among the 36 questionable examples in my Usage Peeve Bingo card.
Incidentally, I used The Sense of Things in a bookmash last year, and am glad I finally got around to reading it.