SIGHTSAW.

From an e-mail I sent yesterday: “[I] had to stay in the hotel while everyone else… sightsaw? sightseed? sheesh, what is the past tense?… Merriam-Webster says ‘sightsaw,’ but that sounds awful to me…” My correspondent agreed it sounded wrong, and said he’d say “went sightseeing,” which I realized immediately was the past tense people actually use. But what an odd verb! Does anybody find sightsaw normal and use it naturally? And does anybody know if there are other verbs whose regular past tense is on the fringe of acceptability?

Comments

  1. That’s not so bad…try to think an English verb from “solidarity”.

  2. Even sightsee is on the fringe of acceptability for me. Sightseeing is a kind of gerund more comfortable playing noun than playing verb.
    Once you turn that gerund into a simple verb you get into all kinds of trouble.
    Think of fundraising. Good. To fundraise. Getting weird. I fundraised. Forget about it.
    Childraising, hairdressing, shoeshining…
    (“He shoeshone two-tones by the seashore?” Nah, “He shone two-toned shoes by the seashore.”)

  3. well, in spanish there’s one nobody uses any more:
    placer [to please], past tense, 3rd person sing: ¡plugo!
    usually that 3rd person was god or some king, as in this sentence by fray luis de león:
    Porque le plugo al Padre y tuvo por bien que se aposentase en Él todo lo sumo y cumplido.
    anyway, i’m gonna start using it.

  4. “Saw the sights”.
    wring -> wrought is also on the fringe of acceptability for most speakers, I imagine.

  5. Like Teju, I find “sightsee” quite strange; it’s not a backformation I’d encountered before. Nonetheless, I’d say “sightsaw” makes sense, by analogy with “babysat.” (There’s also the analogy of “breastfed,” but I’m ignoring that because even without the backformed “breastfeed,” “breastfed” could exist as a passive participle.)
    According to the OED, “beware” at one point had inflected forms (“bewaring,” “bewared”), until people decided that was just too strange.
    Aidan Kehoe: “Wrought” is actually an old preterite and past participle of “work,” not of “wring.” The preterite and past participle of “wring” is “wrung,” though “wringed” and various other forms have existed historically.

  6. I squabble with my boss because she insists on saying “highlit” instead of “highlighted” (and English is her first language).

  7. I’d say “sightsaw” makes sense
    Oh, sure, it makes sense — it just sounds really weird. It’s interesting to me that some people find sightsee itself weird. I wonder what factors influence these things?

  8. I agree with Aidan that “saw [the] sights” is the most natural form. But there’s nothing wrong with ‘sounding really weird’ either. Heavens, I use ‘spice’ as the plural of ‘spouse’! The spouse doesn’t even blink any more.

  9. I’ve heard “we’re going sightseeing” and “we’re sightseeing today” both of which sound clumsy to me.

  10. Ran—oops, thanks for the correction!

  11. Immediately this passage from Eddie Izzard’s Definite Article sprang to mind:
    And it’s also lucky, horseshoes are lucky! And horses have four bits of lucky nailed to their feet. They should be the luckiest animals in the world! They should win all their horse races, shouldn’t they? “It’s after 3:30, and today, every single horse was first equal… One horse dropped a shoe, came in fourth… And the duck was ninth. Five ran…” It’s what they always say at the end, don’t they? A bit of useless – “five run.” Are there people at home, going, “But how many run?” Or is it the idea, “Five run, one sauntered, really… one drove a small car… one windsurfed, one “hang-glid.” Yeah, you decline the verb “to hang-glide,” then – I hang-glide, you hang-glide, he/she hang-glides, we hang-glid, you hang-glided, they “hang-glidededed.”
    Incidentally, anybody who likes language should familiarize themselves with Izzard’s stand-up videos, Dress to Kill especially.

  12. My intuition is that it’s idiomatically locked with the auxiliary “to go.” So I’d say “went sightseeing.”

  13. I agree with Q (and others): “went sightseeing”. To me, “saw the sights” sounds odd — I think it doesn’t imply an intentional visit, rather it’s as if they glimpsed the sights (or sites) in passing as they were off to the pub (which actually does describe my sightseeing strategy). Interesting though, how these object-incorporated verbs differ: “babysat” is acceptable to me.
    Also, re: “hang-glid” — I love it! I had a linguistics professor whose avowed intention was to bring back strong verbs. “yesterday I bange out on pizza”,

  14. Maybe “babysat” seems more acceptable because the “sitting” being done isn’t the usual sense of “sitting”, nor is there a circumlocution you can use as a substitute (“I am sitting some babies tonight.”)
    I agree that “I went sightseeing” is the better form. I would never say “I sightsaw”.

  15. Downton Sinclair says:

    I used to use “striked” as the PT of “strike”, in the sense of workers downing tools. I didn’t associate it at all with “strike” meaning “hit”: the long drawn-out build up of unions and management entering negotiations, which break down, leading to notice being served before the final “strike” didn’t seem to relate to a punch in the guts, or to the smash-and-grab of “the masked bandit strikes again!” Even now I could never say “the workers struck”; it has to be “the workers went on strike”.

  16. ‘Sight-see’ is not a permissible English verb because it means “see sights”, with the direct object incorporated into the verb with unchanged semantics. English has close to an absolute prohibition on such incorporations: you can’t fox-hunt, or car-drive, or beer-drink, or meat-eat. So when you try to back-form it you get severe violations.
    We do allow incorporation of simple direct objects into morphologically more complex structures: meat-eating, car-driver, fox-hunter, beer-drinker.
    We also freely allow verbs of the form N + V where the N is not syntactically equivalent to a direct object but to an adjunct: breast-feed = feed from/with a breast, colour-code = code with colours, window-shop = shop in windows, baby-sit = sit with babies.
    (Caveat: there are in fact a respectable number of ghits for a bare verb ‘deer-hunt’, but nevertheless the principle holds generally in English. If direct V + O exists, then incorporated O-V is not permitted.)

  17. “We saw the sights” sounds fine to me.
    “It was our first day in Salonika so we went out and saw the sights”. The sort of thing I would say every day!

  18. Even now I could never say “the workers struck”; it has to be “the workers went on strike”
    I prefer “the workers went on strike for higher pay”, but “the workers struck for higher pay” sounds perfectly idiomatic….

  19. (Curse my timezone for ensuring I get on here so late in the discussion!)
    I think of go sightseeing as a complex predicate, formed by a light verb go and a highly predicative other element*, which in this case is a gerund/verb/noun sightseeing.
    There are a few such complex predicates in English, the main part of which is formed by verb-noun or noun-verb compounding. Breakfast is another one. It is a noun (though the break is misleading here) that combines with have to operate in a verb-like manner. (I like to flout this and say I’m going to break the fast or have you broken fast? But neither is ever interpreted).
    The idea is that they are verb-like things (inherently activities) but for one reason or another they aren’t a part of speech that allows verb-like inflection. Solution: stick it with a light verb; one that conveys very little meaning to the overall meaning of the sentence/complex predicate.
    Light verbs, do in this case, are stuck somewhere on a cline between fully productive verbs (see the sights) which are predicatively rich, and auxiliaries (be or have) and at the extreme end, copulas, all of which convey no added semantic meaning, they merely add tense/aspect and possibly transitivity and other aspects of argument structure. Light verbs convey some of semantic meaning but the majority is conveyed by the other element.
    There is clearly still some play in the choice of verb, I think you can still ask someone to come sightseeing and you can of course be sightseeing (you can even do breakfast).
    This is very close to my recent thesis actually. Wagiman does just about everything by complex predicates. The class of ‘verbs’ only has about 45 or 50 members, and they are mostly broad, generic concepts like ‘go’, ‘do’, ‘be’.
    *By other element I mean that in some languages it’s another verb (Romance languages, Japanese), sometimes it’s a noun (um… Korean, I think) and some languages reserve a part of speech specifically to do this, in parts of Australia we call them coverbs (Wagiman, Jaminjung and Bardi). It can also be any other word that language has (Persian (Farsi), Hindi and/or Urdu).
    (Sorry for the long-winded comment, this was precisely my expertise for the past year)

  20. I agree, “sightsaw” sounds very wrong; I further agree that “went sightseeing” is exactly how I would make it past tense.
    There is also “for(e)go.” I think everyone would agree that “for(e)went” is pretty awful, and that “for(e)goed” is probably even worse. This example is even worse that the “sightsaw” one (never mind that “for(e)go” can be spelled in 2 ways), because there is no `escape’ like using “went for(e)going” (although, some might use the historical approach of “did for(e)go”).

  21. Sorry for the long-winded comment
    Not at all! It’s great when people with expertise share it here.
    So if nobody likes “sightsaw,” how did it make it into the dictionary? I just checked the OED, and the only two cites with a past-tense context use periphrases:
    1824 R. HEBER Narr. Journey Upper Provinces India I. xii. 302, I had been sight-seeing from five till nearly ten o’clock.
    1913 E. WHARTON Custom of Country xxx. 412 ‘I suppose you’ve been to that old church over there?’.. ‘Oh, of course; when I used to sightsee. Have you never been to Paris before?’

  22. zuzentzailea, I sympathize with your feelings, but I don’t think English speakers all agree with you about what’s permissible. There are plenty of people who use “fund-raise”. I’ve even heard “problem-solve”.

  23. Interestingly, I just saw a comment on peculiar American past-tensing on the Freakonomics blog, though not in exactly the same category as you’re discussing here.
    Link to comment

    I’d heard of this back-verbing phenomenon, but now I see it in action. Is “burglarized” common in America? What’s wrong with “burgled”? Do you also say “robberized” and “murdererized”?

  24. What is wrong with ‘forwent’? I think the problem is that some of these quite regular and accepted formations are not very commonly encountered, causing people to feel that they are awkward and thus wrong. (Such, I guess, is the process by which words and structures drop out of the language.)

  25. In support of my foregoing comment, I googled “forwent breakfast” and found 40 hits. The expression does exist!
    Unfortunately, one of them, a rather prescriptivist site called Serendity, gives support to the opposing case with this comment: ‘The past participle (“In order to attend this meeting I have forgone breakfast”) is seldom encountered and the past tense (“He forwent breakfast in order to …”) almost never.’

  26. Final comment on ‘forgo’: There are other ways of avoiding ‘forwent’ than using ‘did forgo’. For example, ‘had to forgo’, ‘ended up forgoing’, etc.

  27. sidereal, “burglarize” is an interesting case. The OED says that the verb “burgle” is a “back-formation from BURGLAR n., of very recent appearance” and its earliest quotation is 1872; while “burglarize” has its earliest quote in 1871, but it reads “The Yankeeisms donated, collided, and burglarized, have been badly used up by an English magazine-writer.”, so one must presume “burgle” was also in use at the time.
    What’s certainly clear is that the noun “burglar” precedes either verb.

  28. heh, OED’s first citation for “burglar” is interesting: “Murdritores & robbatores & burglatores.”

  29. nomis,
    Interesting, so it looks like ‘burglar’ was misinterpreted to be a noun of (verb)+’er’ derivation, implicitly creating the verb ‘burgle’. From that etymology, ‘burgled’ continues this misapprehension and ‘burglarize’ (and therefore ‘burglarized’) is actually more consistent (via the (noun)+’ize’ process; e.g. terrorize, monopolize, etc). Goes to show, a grammatical high horse is a slippery perch.

  30. Siganus Sutor says:

    Having muckraked inconsiderately, I now lie on the fringe of acceptability. But I never mudslung at anybody.

  31. I’m probably just weird but I think ‘forewent’ as a past tense of ‘forego’ sounds weird. Why not ‘foregoed’?!

  32. Andrew Dunbar says:

    Just in the past few months I had noticed that there seems to be a small class of English compounds which can take an agent noun form and a gerund form but not normal verb forms. The one I can still recall is “gasfitter”.
    “Forewent” sounds find to me though a bit stiff for most people I know. “Saw the sights” and “went sightseeing” sound equally acceptable though the latter is what I would use. “Sightsaw” sounds odd. “Babysat” always sounds like wordplay but perfectly acceptable.

  33. zuzentzailea: I agree that you can’t, in the sense of mayn’t, fox-hunt any more, but surely you can SAY “foxhunt”, as a verb? You just can!
    Pam Ayres (last three lines included for fun):
    I am a dry stone waller
    All day I dry stone wall
    Of all appalling callings
    Dry stone walling’s
    Worst of all

  34. Swim. Have heard people trying to use swam, swum, rolling them out with uncertainty, decided it was weird and wrong, finally settling on went swimming.

  35. “Come in the pool?”
    “No thanks, I’ve swum already.”
    Sounds okay to me.

  36. ‘swum’ sounds a little odd to me in an intransitive context. I would have said “I’ve been swimming already.” However, transitively it works well – “I’ve already swum 10 lengths.” There’s no way you can phrase the transitive use periphrastically as far as I can see – “I have been swimming 10 lengths” is the wrong aspect, and anything else is hopelessly clunky unless I’m missing the obvious.

  37. zuzentzailea, but you can be a fox-hunter, a beer-drinker, and a car-driver. It wouldn’t be surprising if there was some backformation to NV compounds from these agent noun compounds (as babysit also is).
    Hat, to go back to your original question, the past tense of “fly out” (the baseball term) is the standard intro linguistics example – it’s “he flyed out”.

  38. Standard, but apparently wrong: see Language Log on the subject.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    English has close to an absolute prohibition on such incorporations: you can’t fox-hunt, or car-drive, or beer-drink, or meat-eat.

    For people who like digressions, I’ll mention that in German this kind of thing is rampant. Latest addition (preferred over the alternative in my idiolect): “I have already washed my hair” — ich habe schon haaregewaschen.
    And then of course the past tense is extinct in the dialects south of the White Sausage Equator, except for “was” and “wanted”. Saves us from a lot of problems. =8-)

  40. zhoen: really? How would you describe someone swimming the Channel, say? “He swam the Channel last year”; “they swam towards the edge of the pool” – these don’t sound natural to you?
    (The example of “I swum already” shows what le Carre called “the casual American brutality towards irregular verbs”; in British English it would be “I have swum already”.)

  41. zhoen: really? How would you describe someone swimming the Channel, say? “He swam the Channel last year”; “they swam towards the edge of the pool” – these don’t sound natural to you?
    (The example of “I swum already” shows what le Carre called “the casual American brutality towards auxiliary verbs”; in British English it would be “I have swum already”.)

  42. And then of course the past tense is extinct in the dialects south of the White Sausage Equator, except for “was” and “wanted”. Saves us from a lot of problems. =8-)
    That’s quite an innovative approach to Vergangenheitsbewältigung! Yes, yes, I know you mean the simple past is extinct except for the two verbs you mention, composite form being used instead.

  43. wring -> wrought is also on the fringe of acceptability for most speakers, I imagine.
    I don’t have an OED in front of me, but I’ve never heard of wrought as a passed tense of wring. Is it? Wrought means “worked,” as in wrought-iron fence (worked-iron fence).

  44. I had a friend who would use “froke” as the past tense of “freak”, as in “My mom totally froke when I didn’t come home until 4 AM.”

  45. ajay, the example was actually “I’ve swum already”, with the auxiliary included. So “swam”
    is the simple past form and “swum” is the past participle. I suspect that what was wrong in zhoen’s original example was something aspectual: to “swim” is telic (swim ten lengths, swim to the edge of the pool) whereas to “go swimming” is atelic.

  46. bathrobe,
    I’d check the context if you’re getting google hits for expressions like “forwent breakfast” – people will often use that form as a joke, which implies that most native English speakers do see it as an akward unnatural expression.

  47. Terry Collmann says:

    Even now I could never say “the workers struck”; it has to be “the workers went on strike”.
    When the Bermondsey bricklayers struck
    Bill Bloggins was ‘avin’ a f*ck
    By union rules
    ‘E ‘ad to down tools;
    Now, wasn’t that ‘ard bleedin’ luck!

  48. “English has close to an absolute prohibition on such incorporations: you can’t fox-hunt, or car-drive, or beer-drink, or meat-eat.”
    Maybe, but you certainly can bitch-slap someone. Besides there is also a very productive construction where the noun comes after the verb, but the noun is not a independent word that can take an article.
    “He tends bar for over the summer.” vs. “He tends the bar.”
    Etc.
    ref. “froke” – that’s like ‘brung’, which is common enough, without irony. Eewww
    “The example of “I swum already” shows what le Carre called “the casual American brutality towards auxiliary verbs”; in British English it would be “I have swum already”.)”
    The poor man was never really at home in the language, was he? (he he)- or familiar with it’s history – why would mostly Celtic Americans’ violence towards the language be casual rather than vengeful, and what difference would it make anyway if you already thought the language was Saxon, brutish and ugly?

  49. David Marjanović says:

    “He swam the Channel last year”

    Transitive swimming? Impressive.

    Vergangenheitsbewältigung

    LOL!
    Well, the cognate of the English past tense (Präteritum, Mitvergangenheit*), which is simple, is extinct, and the cognate of the English present perfect tense (Perfekt**, Vergangenheit), which is composite, is used instead. The past perfect has been invented anew.
    * A word so artificial it doesn’t even begin to have a transparent meaning. — In Standard German the only difference between the two tenses is the Latin consecutio temporum: the normal tense for narration is the past, but if you narrate in the present tense, you have to use the present perfect if you refer to past events. There is no aspect. I’ve been told that this may be why the leading world authorities on aspect are apparently all Germans.
    ** Implies aspect, which is wrong.

  50. Jim: “mostly Celtic Americans”? What a strange outlook on history.

  51. I’d check the context if you’re getting google hits for expressions like “forwent breakfast” – people will often use that form as a joke.
    The ones on the first page of results were all perfectly serious. I really don’t think ‘forwent’ is quite as bad as people seem to be making out (I’m not sure why I find myself defending ‘forwent’ as if it were somehow illegitimate when it’s perfectly grammatical, merely a little unfamiliar. By contrast, ‘forgoed’ sounds positively illiterate!)
    English has close to an absolute prohibition on such incorporations: you can’t fox-hunt, or car-drive, or beer-drink, or meat-eat
    Coming into Sydney on a Qantas flight the other day, the introductory video to the city recommended going to the west of Sydney where you could “hike or horse-ride”. (Funny how Languagehat starts sensitising you to language!)

  52. I might have missed it mentioned, but “drunk” seems to be so closely associated with “intoxicated” that its use as the past participle of “to drink” is, in my observation, rarely used correctly. I even hesitate to use it correctly because I know it sounds wrong to most American ears and I usually end up saying something like “I’ve had coffee already”. What I usually hear people say is “has drank”, “has drunken” or even “has dranken”.

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