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Snuck Triumphant

December 22, 2010 | by

Early readers of the Daily may remember a little set-to we had, back in June, with our friends at The Awl over our use of the word snuck.

We had forgotten all about it, until we received an interesting item from special U.S. Open correspondent (and Team Paris Review catcher) Louisa Thomas. In the current issue of Science, Jean-Baptiste Michel, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva P. Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, the Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden report new findings on the fate of irregular verbs in English:

Though irregulars generally yield to regulars, two verbs did the opposite: light/lit and wake/woke. Both were irregular in Middle English, were mostly regular by 1800, and subsequently backtracked and are irregular again today. The fact that these verbs have been going back and forth for nearly 500 years highlights the gradual nature of the underlying process. Still, there was at least one instance of rapid progress by an irregular form. Presently, 1% of the English speaking population switches from “sneaked” to “snuck” every year: someone will have snuck off while you read this sentence. As before, this trend is more prominent in the United States, but recently sneaked across the Atlantic: America is the world’s leading exporter of both regular and irregular verbs. (From “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books”)

To which we say, good catch, Louisa! It is not every day that The Paris Review Daily finds itself in step with the march of history. We’re not sure it’s something to celebrate; still, we thought our early adopters ought to know.

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