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Words, Nov. 15

by and


“Judge Billy Roy snuck back to his chambers while an angry crowd booed his verdict and threatened to burn the courthouse.”

Every so often, somebody wants to take up sneaked and snuck again. Now is one of those times. I've always been a stickler for sneaked, agreeing with authorities like The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style: “Sneaked is the proper past tense and past participle of sneak … meaning to move quietly and stealthily so as not to be observed, or to act in a secret or underhanded manner. One dictionary describes ‘snuck' as chiefly dialectal, another as nonstandard. If chosen at all, it should be restricted to a frivolous context.”

But it's been impressed on me that there are other authorities and other dictionaries. The Random House Unabridged says: “First recorded in writing toward the end of the 19th century in the United States, snuck has become in recent decades a standard variant past tense and past participle of the verb sneak: Bored by the lecture, he snuck out the side door. Snuck occurs frequently in fiction and in journalistic writing as well as on radio and television … It is not so common in highly formal or belletristic writing, where sneaked is more likely to occur. Snuck is the only spoken past tense and past participle for many younger and middle-aged persons of all educational levels in the U.S. and Canada. Snuck has occasionally been considered nonstandard, but it is so widely used by professional writers and educated speakers that it can no longer be so regarded.”

More often, irregular verbs such as snuck lose ground to –ed verbs. Pleaded becomes more popular than pled, shone is crowded by shined, strived replaces both strove and striven. The growing popularity of snuck is a departure from the norm. So is the use of hung for hanged. I usually like irregular verbs; they add flavor. I suppose I'll learn to like snuck too, even if does sound dopey.

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