I WAS SAT.

An interesting language-oriented letter in the May 10 TLS:

Sir, – Although as a senior citizen I cheer Hugo Williams on in his research into newfangled words (Freelance, May 3), I must defend “I was stood/sat”, which is standard Northern speech (along with “he trett her so badly that she sellt the house”, which hasn’t made it South). The different past participles are not a recent import into England, only into southern England.
Having just had the rare pleasure of a reading by Tony Harrison, I’m reminded that “the great BBC class slippage” also has a regional element.
JENNY KING 84 Knowle Lane, Sheffield.

Defend and keep your fine old participles, ye of the North!

Comments

  1. “…along with “he trett her so badly that she sellt the house”
    This reminds me of a co-worker frorm rural Oklahoma, years ago, who used “retch” as the past tense form of “reach”.

  2. Bill Walderman says:

    ‘This reminds me of a co-worker frorm rural Oklahoma, years ago, who used “retch” as the past tense form of “reach”.’
    A close friend from the deep south (US) regularly uses “crunk” as the preterite/past participle of “crank”, meaning “to start a motor vehicle”, among many other fascinating regionalisms. (I think “crank” in this sense can be used both transitively and intransitively.)

  3. Breffni says:

    The form of the past participles is standard, though. What’s non-standard is the use of past participles instead of present participles in that construction.

  4. dearieme says:

    In my English if you say someone was “sat” you are either referring to a child plonked down somewhere, or to someone directed to sit in a particular place.

  5. Is “I was stood/sat [somehwere]” (in place of AmEng “I was standing/sitting [somewhere]“) a Northern thing? I hear it from English people all the time, and I thought they all did it.

  6. dearieme says:

    If they all do it, Lazar, it’s a recent introduction from oop North and probably concentrated among the young. Similarly you’ll hear “everyone” using slang that in my youth was restricted to Glasgow, “numpty” being an example. Stuff spreads.

  7. What is “oop North” called when you are in Scotland, anyway? “Doon Sooth” is too vague.

  8. Is this related to “It needs washed”? That I think of as a regional American usage with a Germanic origin.

  9. Is this related to “It needs washed”? That I think of as a regional American usage with a Germanic origin.
    Isn’t English grammar pretty much entirely “of Germanic origin”, in the sense that historical linguists use “Germanic” ? Perhaps you imagine that the expression is due to the influence of modern-German-speaking immigrants 100 to 200 years ago, a kind of Katzenjammer Kids influence ? But what German locution from any era resembles “It needs washed” ?

  10. It’s not recent, and it’s not exclusively northern. On 20 April, 1653, Oliver Cromwell, addressing Parliament, said ‘It is not fit that you should sit here any longer! You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing lately’.

  11. Numpty’s a Glasgow expression, dearie? Did it spread via Peter Capaldi? Practically everyone seems to be described in Britain as a numpty nowadays. I like it, it reminds me of Humpty Dumpty.

  12. dearieme says:

    @Barrie, your argument is unconvincing. That “sat” it was used in the south, or at least Cambridgeshire, in Cromwell’s time doesn’t preclude its since passing out of use in the south and then being reintroduced from Oop North in recent times. I can even guess at a “vector” – Coronation Street, perhaps, or northern DJs on’t radio.
    @John, I suspect that we’d have referred to the relevant bit of Oop North , rather than lumping them all together in a feat of parochial ignorance and superciliousness. Except if we wanted to tease, obviously.

  13. I’m from the north of England. Far too many colloquialisms to list here but here’s a nice one from east Lancashire:
    replacing “our” with “us” eg
    “It’s time for us coffee break”

  14. Breffni says:

    A friend of mine from Buckinghamshire was using “was stood / sat” (unironically) twenty years ago, when she was in her twenties. This was in Ireland, so I don’t know about her peers. But on the basis of this one data point I’ve always supposed, like Lazar, that this was well established in English speech generally.

  15. dearieme says:

    “that this was well established in English speech generally”: then I must have been very unlucky not to have come across it until recently, except when I lived in N Yorkshire.

  16. I was stood or sat has been common usage for all my lifetime, both by northerners and southerners. It didn’t become popular 20 years ago, that’s a rød sild. But if it did originate up north, like sex it might have got its big break around about 1963 along with the Beatles.

  17. I was stood or sat has been common usage for all my lifetime
    Who knew, when all the while in North America “was sat” has only referred to what someone does to you (usually as a child) to get you into a chair or to keep you there.
    I suspect that we’d have referred to the relevant bit of Oop North
    Fair enough: we of Cooper Square don’t like to think of ourselves as part of the East Village. Still, the Come Down Wedding Cake is still operational: the foundation layer (whose ways have spread to the rest of the Wedding Table) says /kʌm daʊn/, the next layer oop makes it /kʊm daʊn/, north of that it’s /kum dun/, and in Caledonia itself, the tippy top of the pile, /kʌm dun/.

  18. dearieme says:

    /kʌm dun/: hmph. More like “Cum ye doon this minute”.

  19. “Stood standing” is another usage. “After the fire alarm went off I was stood standing at the front door for five minutes while everyone else got out…” According to a comment here it’s a west-country usage, but I think it’s more widespread. I’ve never heard “sat sitting”, though.

  20. … “stood standing” may have evolved from similar phrases like “I was stood talking to him” or “I was sat knitting a jumper”.

  21. Trond Engen says:

    AJP: That seems to have much the same function as a Norwegian construction (Nynorsk and Bokmål for variation):
    “Etter at alarmen gjekk, blei ho ståande foran døra i fem minutt medan alle andre kom seg ut.”
    “Han vart hengande der til bøddelen tok han ned den tredje natta.”
    “Blir dere sittende til vi stenger?”
    It’s peculiar that it can only be used with a few verbs, but there’s an odd way to get around that:
    “Det er farlig når ungdommen bare blir gående og slenge.”
    “Eg la meg tidleg men vart liggjande og vri meg til utpå morgonen.”
    I’m not sure what’s going on in the participle-og-infinitive construction. In more simple grammatical forms, the two verbs are parallel: å gå og slenge, jeg går og slenger, jeg gikk og slang, vi burde ha gått og slengt.

  22. The OED has these citations. Make of them what you will.
    1774 ‘J. Collier’ Musical Trav. 26 He was sat against a glass practising some solfeggis on the violin.
    1790 A. C. Bower Diaries & Corr. (1903) 109, I was sat down with every Miss in Winchester to play Vingt une.
    1711 J. Addison Spectator No. 122. ¶6 The Court was sat before Sir Roger came.
    1803 Edwin II. i. 12 Where..Hermon and his friend were sate.
    1978 W. Donaldson Balloons in Black Bag 41 The big girl’s blouse was sat seated on the bench, eyes closed, a look of foolish rapture on his face.

  23. “Han vart hengande der til bøddelen tok han ned den tredje natta.”
    I say, Trond. Is that a citation or just the first thing that sprang to mind? I’m awfully ignorant about these forms but isn’t henende just (in English) a gerund, the object of vart?
    The big girl’s blouse was sat seated on the bench, eyes closed, a look of foolish rapture on his face.
    Haha. “Sat seated” is great. I think we did “girl’s blouse” a few months ago.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    No gerund, a present participle. It’s the construction as a whole and it’s meaning I wanted to highlight. It’s very similar to the English continuous present, but more limited in scope and applicability, and the meaning seems to fit your “was stood standing”.
    I just tried to come up with a natural sounding, everyday example of “vart hengande”. Didn’t it work?

  25. Trond Engen says:

    It’s a verbal form denoting “from a known beginning go on for a long or indefinite time”. Adhesive?

  26. Grumbly Stu: I think it has been discussed here before. This article suggests a Scottish Gaelic origin
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Pennsylvania_dialect

  27. I guess it’s similar. But “stood standing” is extremely colloquial and I’d guess almost bizarre to most English speakers, which your examples aren’t in Norwegian, at least not to me (except the one about the bøddel).

  28. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, it’s very much standard Norwegian, but strangely underdescribed in standard grammars. Or at least strangely underexplained to me.

  29. maidhc: OK, the article says “it needs washed” is thought to derive from Scots Gaelic. I hadn’t expected the word Germanic in “with a Germanic origin” to cover such connections, but then what do I know ?
    Two short paragraphs farther down in the WiPe article is an example of the kind of thing I thought was being conjured: “When referring to consumable products, the word all is used to mean all gone. For example, the phrase the butter’s all would be understood as ‘the butter is all gone.’ This likely derives from German.”
    That is, I was expecting a specious structural resemblance at which a layman could say “aha” without understanding all that is involved. Die Butter ist alle is indeed a colloquial expression, in NRW if not everywhere in Germany. Every time I hear an instance of this … ist alle pattern, I wonder “what does this have to do with anything”.
    I say “what does this have to do with anything” rather than “where does it come from”, because I’ve become rather suspicious of “comes from” explanations, not just in matters linguistic.
    Suppose I ask “where does A come from”. Someone may answer “it comes from B”. Well, that tells me something, I guess, but why did it come from B, what does “come from” mean here, and what about where B comes from ?
    An English speaker wonders “where does ‘the butter is all’ come from”. The answer “from German” may satisfy him to a certain extent, precisely when he doesn’t know German. He will not guess that some German speakers are wondering “woher kommt der Ausdruck ‘die Butter ist alle’”. Should he care ? Probably not, because he is now satisfied on his own terms.
    An explanation may consist in pointing-to-something-you-know, or pointing-to-something-you-don’t know. Whatever else they may be, explanations are attempts to stem the flow of questions. This explanation of explanation is an attempt to throttle, it not stem, my own flow of questions about what explanation “is”.
    In trying to understand something, we go with the flow or not, depending on how shut-uppable we’re feeling at the moment.

  30. A currently acceptable explanation for where that last comment by “????????? ???” comes from is: from a forum spambot. By “currently acceptable” I mean that it is unlikely anyone will feel that the matter needs further investigation. Even I can’t think of a reason to be unsatisfied. “From a spambot” is at present an explanation that satisfies everybody, and prevents further questions. It functions like “the Bible tells us so” for a Christian fundamentalist.

  31. The expression “the current scientific consensus is that X”, depending on who uses it and the wider textual context, can be seen as offering a shut-up explanation for belief or claim X.
    Of course the expression may be taken as neutrally descriptive: “most scientists in this field believe X”. That is a description of a belief or claim. You may doubt that it’s true, but that’s covered in Epistemology 101.
    The expression may well carry other implications with it, though. The writer may subscribe to a “consensus theory” of scientific knowledge. In this case, “the current scientific consensus is that X” is more than a description of what scientists in the field believe or claim.
    It is now a claim about a belief or claim. The writer is claiming you into the fold of belief in X, for the reason that other scientists believe it. This is a difficult subject not covered in Epistemology 101. In Psychology 101 you may have been encouraged to see this as “group pressure”, but what do psychologists know about anything ?
    I still don’t know what to make of that peculiar German locution … ist/sind alle, no matter how harmlessly familiar it is to me.

  32. Even I can’t think of a reason to be unsatisfied.
    Well, I can. I don’t know what a spambot is or how it functions. You might as well tell me that Father Christmas’s band of elves writes the spam, I wouldn’t have any reason to believe that either. It’s not that I believe in spambots and am therefore satisfied, I just have no reason to bother to find out the truth.

  33. I once heard someone say “the table is not 100 percent” meaning that it has a defect: it rocks to and fro. Or maybe she said “the floor is not 100 percent” by way of explaining why the table rocked; she was trying to selling cheap used furniture to students. She spoke with a German accent.
    Could this be remotely related to “ist alle”?

  34. Science is in the business of explanations, but not of ultimate explanations: at best, an explanation refers something not understood to something else understood, or at least said to be understood. Science, despite its etymology, is not in the business of knowledge either. It splits this notion in two: data (that is, what is “given”) and hypothesis, more or less reinforced by the data.

  35. Yeah, what John Cowan said. If some Germans brought a locution from (some part of) Germany to (some part of) Pennsylvania, and if I learn this fact, then I have learned something. I might or might not be interested in this fact, and I might or might not want to ask further questions.

  36. This German person has never given any thought to alle. Sometimes it means everyone, sometimes it means empty. Words can have two meanings, can’t they?
    I can even informally say: Ich bin alle. which does not mean I’m multitude, but that I’m knackered.
    But because it’s so much fun I’ll just come up with a hypothesis: I suspect that the origin is babytalk or motherese. We often also say “alle alle” when we want to say something is all gone, eaten up, nothing left. It’s typical of child-carer interaction. So, from alle(s) aufgegessen we got to alle(s) alle in the ‘dinner’ becomes ‘din-din’ reduplication mode. And then we started leaving out the second alle.
    Probably both improbable and unprovable.

  37. John: data (that is, what is “given”)
    May I ask why you put that word in quotes ? Are those construction-ahead-go-slow quotes, aka scare quotes ? My view is that data is taken, not given. But we have differed about this before, in the intransigent give-and-take of opinions.
    empty: I might or might not be interested in this fact, and I might or might not want to ask further questions.
    Exactly what I said, in other words: “In trying to understand something, we go with the flow [of questions] or not, depending on how shut-uppable we’re feeling at the moment.” By “shut-uppable at the moment” I mean “satisfied for the moment”. Either we want to ask further questions, or we don’t. Hardly a controversial view.

  38. This German person has never given any thought to alle. Sometimes it means everyone, sometimes it means empty. Words can have two meanings, can’t they?
    You must have given some thought to it, otherwise you wouldn’t know that “sometimes it means everyone” usw. Apart from that – people can give thought to things, can’t they ?

  39. May I ask why you put that word in quotes ?
    I expect because “given” is the literal meaning of Latin data.

  40. Sister_Ray says:

    Until you pointed it out Grumbly Stu I do not think I would have mentioned alle in a list of Teekesselchen.
    Just like the English friend (from the London area) who had given me a text to read and was very astonished when I pointed out that her usage of “was sat” struck me as strange. She did not think it was remarkable in any way.
    Using language does not mean that you know what you’re doing.

  41. I expect because “given” is the literal meaning of Latin data.
    That’s cute – we can hardly disagree about what data is, now that we we know the literal meaning of the word “data”. I had believed that John and I were in disagreement, but that now appears to have been a mere verbal misunderstanding.

  42. Using language does not mean that you know what you’re doing.
    But it does, in both English and German. To know what you’re doing is not the same thing as ability to report on what you’re doing, in such a way that I can appropriate it as knowledge.
    Als Klavierspieler weiß er sehr gut, was er tut, kann es mir aber nicht erklären. The very best discussion I have ever encountered of this matter is in Ryle’s The Concept of Mind.
    By the way, is Sister_Ray related to the eponymous main character in that fabulous piece by the Velvet Underground ?

  43. Hardly a controversial view.
    No, we don’t really disagree; it’s a matter of emphasis. I might accept something as an “explanation” if it gets me a little closer to the impossibly faraway and nonexistent ultimate explanation. You might describe my so accepting it as a choice to shut up and not take the next step.

Speak Your Mind

*