Occasionally, I am overcome by a terrible temptation to conjugate regular verbs irregularly which is okay as long as it doesn't happen while I'm standing at a blackboard with forty students behind me copying down every (wrong) word as gospel truth. I just can't help feeling that the English language would be even richer if I could say things like "I knat you a jumper, do you like it?", or "He store at me as if I had two heads" or "the article was citten by five other authors". Of course children do it the other way round, they go through a phase where all verbs are conjugated regularly as in "I've bringed you a dead snail, Mummy" or "Tu veux t'assiser?" which E. still prefers to "Tu veux t'asseoir?" and I've come to quite like it too.
So, yesterday, when I reread the post just under this one, I paused for a second at the word "seeped" and wondered if perhaps the past tense shouldn't be "sept" as in "water sept in through the walls". The more I thought about it the better it sounded. Why, I wondered, is "seep" not an irregular verb?
Then, by one of those truly freaky coincidences that it is best not to dwell on (dwell, dwold, dwollen?), I stumbled on the answer. Like many people this week, I had just discovered the LearnOutLoud.com site, a veritable treasure trove of lectures and speeches in streaming video. So, late last night I settled down to watch Steven Pinker give a lecture about Words and Rules, and somewhere in the middle my ears pruck up as he explained that we say "keep, kept" but not "seep, sept" because, unlike keep, the verb seep was introduced into the English language after the "Great Vowel Shift" of the mid fifteenth century (before which a double e was pronounced in such a way as to require that -t sound at the end of the past tense.) If you find this sort of think fascinating, and you'd like to know more about Pinker's modified words-and-rules theory, I recommend listening to the whole lecture but if you don't have time to watch the whole thing, there's a short piece by Pinker on the same subject, here: The Irregular Verbs
*Isn't it strange how when one ultra-popular blog mentions a site, it is immediately taken up by lots of others and then everyone bookmarks it with furl or del.icio.us and it popularity grows exponentially. We really need a verb to describe this phenomenon. I suggest "to wildfire" as in "that site really wildfired this week". Whatever the word chosen, the chances are that it will be conjugated as a regular verb like all other recent neologisms eg. googled and spammed. Apparently, the last irregular past tense to be introduced into the (American) English language is "snuck", and that's a hundred years old.
Category: irregular verbs