My Little Town 20121121: More Old Words

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

Several folks who follow this regular series, my Pique the Geek one, and my Popular Culture one know that I often use obsolete or archaic spellings for certain, common words.  This is intentional.

Perhaps it is no longer standard English to use these old words, but neither is it incorrect to do so.  I do so partly out of respect whence came I (“whence” is “from where” in a single word, so if you say “from whence” it is sort of like saying “from from where”, sort like folks calling MSDSs “Material Data Safety Sheet Sheets” when they say “MSDS sheets”), but I am not being completely honest.

Another reason that I use them is to try to grab the attention of my readers.  I find it interesting to read pieces from contributors who are sort of off the beaten track.  I do not know if it works well for me or not.  I do believe that my readers realize that I do this not out of ignorance for standard English, but sort of in protest of the conformity to it.

Am I an nonconformist?  As Gibbs would say, “Ya think!?”

Following is a list of words that I often use that are not standard, but not incorrect, and then some recollections that I have for some of the old talk that NEVER was really correct.  This is quite subjective, but here we go.

I often the words “burnt”, “learnt”, “boilt”, and several others in place of “burned”, “learned”, “boiled”, and so forth.  There is an extremely technical reason for this as one examines the evolution of the English tongue.  Here is the diluted version.

At one time, especially going back the the Anglo-Saxon versions of English, there were many classes of verbs, described by how they were conjugated.  In modern usage, there are only really three now:  weak verbs, strong verbs, and irregular verbs.  This terminology is pretty much based on modern German, but I think that it jibes well with modern English.  (Interestingly, many people use the word “jives”, meaning to dance or talk in a particular manner, with “jibes”, meaning to agree with other things, but I digress again.)

Weak verbs use a stem that is unchanging and then applies suffixes to denote their temporal meaning.  English is unique that it forms the infinitive of the verb by adding, of all things, the preposition “to” to the fleshed out stem.  Here are two common examples.   These examples are only for the indicative mood of the verb.  The imperative and subjective are sometimes different.

“To dance” is the infinitive.  Let us look at how we change the verb to match the temporal sense.

Present simple first person singular:  “I dance.”

Present simple second person singular:  “You dance.”

Present simple third person singular:  “He dances.”

The only change is the added s in the third person singular.

Present progressive first person singular:  “I am dancing.”

Present progressive second person singular:  “You are dancing.

Present progressive third person singular:  “She is dancing.”

The only change is dropping the “e” and replacing it with “ing”, typical of forming the progressive.

Present emphatic first person singular:  “I do dance.”

Present emphatic second person singular:  “You do dance.”

Present emphatic third person singular:  “He does dance.”

There is no change to “dance”, but like in the progressive there is an axillary verb that is sort of hard to define, but we will get to it.

This is going to become exponentially large if I go into so much detail, so let us sort of condense it.  The simple past tense of “to dance” is “danced”.  In this case it is also the past participle.  The only change is to replace “e” with “ed”.  The stem of the verb is completely unchanged.

The future tense in English is usually formed by using the auxiliary verbs “will” or “shall” (interestingly, there are no infinitives that use the adjective “to” for either of those!).  I think of them more as adverbs, but those are some fine hairs to split.

The point is that with weak verbs, the stem does not change, only what can be called suffixes.  Now for strong ones.

Strong verbs have a sound shift in the stem.  This is usually only apparent in the simple past tenses, but these verbs are so common that it is possible to sound quite ignorant if one uses them incorrectly.  Here is a common example.

“To sing” is the infinitive.  All of the present and future tenses are derived just like weak verbs.  But the simple past tenses are quite different.

“I sing” means that either I am singing at present or that I can sing.

“I sang” indicates that I recently sang something or that used to be activity that I pursued.

“I sung” is quite incorrect.  To use “sung” correctly, unless it is the surname of Data’s creator, requires an auxillary verb that indicates the past, like “have”.  “I have sung” is right, but “I sung” is right out for correct usage.

There are many verbs like that, some of them extremely common.  Exampled include “to see”, “to fly”, and any number of verbs.  Misuse of the past participles of these verbs is often the quickest way to determine the educational level of a person.  I cringe when I hear people say things like, “I seen that” or “He done that”.  This is not always in indicator of education, but is strongly associated with education.

In my little town most people did not know how to conjugate verbs very well.  This included a number of teachers at the school.  Sometimes I wonder how I learnt to do so properly.  In large measure is was because of my mum.  Although she did not have college, other than some business school, she was extremely well read.  I can remember only a handful of instances where she messed up, and almost all of those were isolated incidents.  Everyone makes mistakes from time to time.  As I was growing up, she would gently correct me when I said things incorrectly.  My parents also bought books for me and encouraged me to read widely, a skill that has served me well.  I still have a near mint set of Encylpaedia Britannica, 1957 edition, that my parents bought when I was born.  I had begun reading it before I turned six, but of course did not understand much of it because it was way over my age level.

Reading does something to the mind of a child.  It forms connexions that otherwise would not exist, and I truly believe that, all things equal, adds intelligence points to children.  My friend has a little girl, and I always give her a Little Golden Book for Christmas and on her birthday.  The Color Kittens is still a classic, and I remember it extremely well from my own childhood.  I prefer spending money on things like that for her than the commercialized crap covered with images of Dora the Explorer, although those do have some educational value.  Interestingly, many of her Dora books have torn or missing pages, but all of The Little Golden Books that I have given her are unscathed.

The last kind of verbs that I shall address tonight are ones that are completely irregular.  The one that comes immediately to mind is “to be”.  This verb is completely irregular in English, and as far as I have been able to tell, in all Indo-European tongues.

“I am”

“You are”

“She is”

“We are”

“You are”

“They are”

“I have been” and so forth.

In the Anglo-Saxon there was a forth number, the dual.  It is sort of like the modern plural, but has the special meaning, roughly, of “you and I”.  English used to have, and German and French still have, the familiar form of the second person.  In English, even with our closest ones, use “you” as a form of address to another individual.  In German there is the formal address, “Sie” equivalent to the English “you”.  But for loved ones, children, and pets the Germans tend to use the pronoun “du”, showing closeness or familiarity.  We used to do this in English and it is still proper, but hardly ever used except when reading Shakespeare or the King James edition of the Bible.  That word is “thou”.  It is remarkably cognate with “du” as in English “th” often replaces “d”.

As an aside, there is an extremely common contraction that even the most well-educated people use that is quite incorrect.  We often say, “…aren’t I?”.  That is just wrong, and even the least language savvy person rarely says “I are…”!  The proper usage is “am not”, but I have never seen the contraction “…amn’t I?” used.  I sort of like that, and may begin to use it.

Now back to why I choose to use some of the words that I use.  First, note that I use the word connexion for connection.  That is sort of a Brit thing (I used to go so far as to spell things like “colour”, “odour”, and “centre” in the Brit fashion but have broken myself from that pretty much) and is also a near obsolete way to spell the word.  But near obsolete does not make it incorrect.

At one time the proper way to form many past participles was to add “t” rather than “ed” to many words.  Hence, “boilt” was quite proper for a long, long time but has now been replaced with “boiled” almost completely.  This is because of the nature of English.  Our language has a very long history of evolving from a very rigid, highly inflected one to a very fluid, noninflected one.  This trend is towards uniformity in treating all parts of speech in a manner that simplifies things.  This trend also is manifest in the elimination of grammatical gender in English.  French and Spanish, along with many other languages, retain gender for inanimate objects (in those cases either feminine or masculine, with different articles for each) and German retains all three Indo-European genders, including neuter, again with different articles.

Along with the trend towards simplification in English, strong verbs are becoming weak ones (but this if far from complete), suffixes that denote the intention of nouns (and their articles and adjectives) have been replaced with the ordering of the words, and lots of unnecessary rigidity has been eliminated.  However, English DOES retain lots of strong verbs and the few irregular ones, and the use of those verbs properly says quite a lot about the education of the speaker or writer.

In any event, I write the way that I write because I like doing it.  I also think that it adds a bit of distinction to my work, be it for good or ill.  Certainly I make mistakes (I am very prone to typographical errors, since my only editor that I have is my audience) and try to correct them when I see them or when they are pointed out to me.  But I shall continue to say “learnt” or “spoilt” as I see fit.

As another aside, earlier today I was visiting my neighbors (The Girl is out of town) because they are my friends.  The Girl is not the only reason why I spend time there, you see.  Anyway, I was repairing the controller for lift chair that The Girl’s mum uses (the cable leading to the control unit had become frayed) and once finished put the control unit on the floor where the epoxy putty that I used as part of the repair could cure.  I said, “I am going to put this down here so it will not be molested until the epoxy cures”.  My neighbor laughed at my choice of words and said something to the effect that I always use interesting language.  I took that as a compliment.

Tonight I have a chicken with onion, celery, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and some spices in the stockpot.  Tomorrow I shall use my grandmum’s recipe to make chicken and dressing for Thanksgiving.  That is all that I plan on doing for Thanksgiving, since I shall be quite alone for most of the day.  However, I shall send some of the dressing with my neighbors to take to one of their other daughters’ house for them to have the feast.  In return, The Girl’s mum promised to bring a plate back for me of the other food.  Actually, I am making enough dressing for two batches, because they plan on having their own Thanksgiving dinner next week and I am invited, just sort of a close family dinner.  I am honored to be included on the guest list, which is extremely short.  Everyone has agreed that regardless of how the relationship with The Girl goes, I have a surrogate family now.  So I have something for which to give thanks this year, and in a big way.

In a while I shall pull the chicken pieces out of the stock and let them cool enough to bone.  Then the bone and skin goes back into the pot and I shall reduce the stock until I am happy with it.  I shall use the white meat for the dressing and make chicken and dumplings with the remainder of the stock with the dark meat.  I am guest hosting Whats for Dinner? on 20121201 and plan (if all goes well) to include a photoessay about the dressing and the dumplings.  Otherwise, I shall write about the nutritional value of tree nuts.

I wish each and every one of you a very happy Thanksgiving!  Try to share it with loved ones if at all possible.  If not, and if you are able, then do something for someone.  I promise you that you will feel better about yourself for that.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

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  1. remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,


  2. to people with a language that has no pronouns.

    Instead of I or you, actual names are used.  

    Just that was a comparatively low hurdle that I stumbled over ignominiously but just imagine how you would address the grand impersonal “they,” that represents some kind of evil deity perhaps.  I never tried.  It was beyond my wildest imagination how I would even start.

    I am reminded of Bertrand Russel’s irregular verbs; e.g.:

    I am firm.

    You are stubborn.

    He is bullheaded.

    A linguistic expert noted that the primary problem with English is that grammar rules for Romance languages hung on a Germanic language make it – a mess, like maybe pickle ice cream.

    For certain.

    Best,  Terry

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