SENTENCE FIRST.

I have added to my blogroll the wonderful Sentence first (“An Irishman’s blog about the English language”). It is written by Stan Carey, an occasional LH commenter who says on his About page:

I’m a scientist and writer turned editor and swivel-chair linguist. Sentence first is my blog about the English language: its usage, grammar, styles, literature, history, and quirks. There will also be stories, photos, and miscellany. I live in the west of Ireland, but thanks to modern technology you can read my blog (almost) anywhere. Its title is from a line spoken by the Queen in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”
I am interested in how people communicate. Words are powerful tools and deserve careful use, but language usage changes constantly. For formal writing and editing I like the plain style, and I am contrarily fascinated by gobbledegook. But because I have had love affairs with various kinds of writing, from science writing and travel writing to fiction and poetry, I am interested in all styles and in the countless ways we express our ideas.

He is clearly a man after my own heart (I am always glad to meet fellow descriptivists, but when they are also professional editors it brings an extra burst of joy), and I particularly commend to your attention his latest post, on snuck as the past tense of sneak. He smacks around a hissy fit thrown by someone at some website called The Awl over the Paris Review’s use of the form (which in a comment to Stan’s post I called “a wonderful word, short, snappy, and vivid”) and provides a detailed account of its history and increasing acceptance, ending with the admirably concise “In conclusion, then, The Awl and Jennifer Garner were wrong, and the Paris Review and Conan O’Brien were right.” (Via Mark Liberman at the Log.)

Comments

  1. He had me at ‘snuck’. I use that word quite often. Great stuff.

  2. The shift from sneaked to snuck is unusual: when verb endings change, they usually go from strong to weak. (Dig, string, and dive are other examples of weak-to-strong drift.)

    “When verb endings change”: what the hell does that mean ? I see no difference between dig and peek as regards “verb endings”, yet one is conjugated strongly, the other weakly.

    Burchfield points out that no other English verb with an -eek or -eak ending makes a past tense -uck ; he lists creak, freak, leak, peak, peek, reek, seek, squeak, streak, wreak, and shriek.

    Yeah, but what about luck, puck, suck, struck? The pitfalls of weak and strong conjugations can be memorized by ESL students in the sentence: “the cat crept in, crapped and crept out again”.

  3. Thanks for this generous introduction, LH. I’m glad you enjoyed the snuck post, and I’m honoured to see Sentence first appear on your blogroll. From reading Language Hat and your comments here and elsewhere, it’s clear to me too that our attitudes to language usage are pretty similar.
    Grumbly Stu: I meant when past-tense inflections change (from strong to weak, or vice versa). Thanks for drawing my attention to this, and sorry it wasn’t more precise; my excuse is that I wrote the post on a hurried Friday afternoon and didn’t re-write it as much as it evidently needed.
    ‘the cat crept in’ — I like crope.

  4. Stan: Thanks for the explanation. So you mean that when there is a change over time between weak and strong forms, it is usually from strong to weak. It wouldn’t have killed me to have omitted “the hell”. It goes with the Sunday-morning persona …
    That kind of change might be observable in German as well, perhaps complicated by the fact that there are diferent regional forms that can gain predominance over time – so it might not be a question of “change” in the sense of “mutate”. In my reading I haven’t paid close attention to different verb forms over the centuries in German. One example that occurs to me is backen, which used to have a strong preterite buk that occurs today primarily in the occasional high-tone novel. It sounds so goofy that people avoid it in favor of backte or hat gebacken. In everyday German spoken by unambitious folks, there is a tendency to avoid the preterite of strong verbs altogether, in favor of hat …. For instance with schwimmen you will hear ist/hat geschwommen rather than schwamm.
    What I like about snuck is the restorative spirit. I myself have a decided weakness for strong verbs, as with crope.

  5. You do often hear the non-standard past tense of squeeze “squoze” especially in rapid speech and also I’ve heard “treapt” as a past tense for “treated” obviously by allusion with verbs like “keep/kept” etc. To be honest I have said “treapt” myself subconsciously it seems more euphonic or atavistic due to my East Anglian dialect?

  6. Too late the phalarope,
    That sang so sweet -
    A cat crope up
    And bat its feet.

  7. dearieme says:

    I would prefer “snack” but it might lead to some confusion.

  8. Am Anfang schaffte Gott Himmel und Erde.

  9. If two soccer teams play a game and finish with an equal number of goals, would you say that the teams drew? Drawed?

  10. Am Anfang schaffte Gott Himmel und Erde.
    In the beginning, God wore out heaven and earth [gave them a really hard time].

  11. If two soccer teams play a game and finish with an equal number of goals, would you say that the teams drew?
    England have drawn my whole life, drew yesterday and they probably will be drawing next Wednesday.
    Argentina isn’t the kind of team that draws its matches.

  12. And then hopefully after England’s lost ‘hung drawn and quartered’ or should that be “hanged”? – Either way, I’d love to see their pretty heads on sticks!

  13. Is ‘tie’ only used in America? Does it somehow communicate the American aversion to ties?

  14. mollymooly says:

    France draught even worse than England. Italy have just drought with New Zealand, which is tricky since Slovakia lossed to Paraguay.

  15. Just yesterday I heard it said on the radio that a baseball game was knotted at 4. Elegant variation. (The Red Sox went on to win in dramatic fashion with two outs in the ninth. Yes, I’m another of their fans.)

  16. It doesn’t take long to get really tired of newspapers’ elegant variations on “win” “lose” “draw” “score”, etc.

  17. dearieme says:

    “Is ‘tie’ only used in America?” For soccer, yes (as far as I know). For other sports,no. Note that in cricket a “draw” and a “tie” are clear different things.

  18. Baseball normally does not admit tie games; a game may be tied during play, but play goes on until one side or another is the winner. If a game (of five innings or more; a game shorter than that is a non-entity) is stopped by some sort of force majeure (rain, snow, earthquake, lack of natural or artificial light), it is suspended and will be resumed when next those teams play during the same season, preferably on the same playing field. Only when the teams are ad hoc, as in the All-Stars games, is a tie game possible.
    The professional record for longevity is a game between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox that was suspended at 4:07 A.M. on April 19, 1981 (Easter morning) after 32 innings. All the extra innings were scoreless except the 21st, 1-1. The 33rd and last inning was played on June 23 and lasted only 18 minutes.

  19. What’s the story behind the “sox” baseball team name spelling? And why are their socks more important than their trousers, hats or shirts?

  20. It all goes back to the first fully professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1867–1870. As the Wikipedia article says, “The team was soon nicknamed ‘Red Stockings’ in reference to the main feature of the uniforms designed by [founding member George B.] Ellard: red stockings, worn with short white trousers. Long stockings were then a novelty in team uniforms.”:

    Thanks partly to their on-field success and the continental scope of their tours, the Red Stockings established styles in team uniforms and team nicknames that have some currency even in the 21st century. They also established a particular color, red, as the color of Cincinnati, and they provide the ultimate origin for the use of “Red Sox” in Boston.

    (Half the team went off to Boston to create the new Boston Red Stockings in 1871 after the Cincinnati team folded.)

  21. Oh, and as for the “sox” spelling, the Boston Red Sox article says: “Sox had been previously adopted for the Chicago White Sox by newspapers needing a headline-friendly form of Stockings, as ‘Stockings Win!’ in large type would not fit on a page.”

Speak Your Mind

*