Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2003 / 6 Teves, 5764
Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
The past tense of "plead''; Is "old adage'' redundant?; Where did "lounge lizard'' come from?
Lately I've noticed that different broadcasters use different words for the past tense of "plead.'' For example, one newscaster will say "the defendant pleaded guilty'' but someone else will say "the defendant pled guilty.'' Which is correct, "'pleaded'' or "pled''? R.B., Miami, Fla.
Both "pleaded'' and "pled'' (sometimes spelled "plead'') are correct past tense forms of "plead.'' They are also both used as the past participle of "plead.''
"Plead'' belongs to the same class of verbs as "bleed,'' "speed,'' "read,'' and "feed.'' As with those verbs, the past and past participle of "plead'' are formed irregularly with a short vowel sound "e'' replacing the long vowel sound "e'' of the present tense "plead.'' "Pled'' parallels the past and past participles "bled,'' "led,'' "sped,'' "read,'' and "fed.''
Competing with the short-vowel form "pled'' from the beginning however, was the regular form "plead.'' "Pleaded'' eventually predominated in mainstream British English, while "pled'' retreated into dialect and especially Scottish dialect use. Through Scottish immigration or some other means, "pled'' reached America.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many American language commentators attacked "pled,'' perhaps because it was not in good British use. "Pled'' steadily gained respectability, however, and today "pled'' and "pleaded'' are equally acceptable in American English.
Dear Editor: Since almost all definitions of the word "adage'' define it as an old saying, why do people invariably preface "adage'' with "old''? If "adage'' means "old saying,'' isn't "old adage'' redundant? R.B., Lebanon, Pa.
Many language commentators agree with you that "old adage'' is redundant. The use of "old'' with "adage,'' however, is not a recent phenomenon. "Old'' has gone with "adage'' since the word first came into English. The earliest recorded use of "adage,'' in Edward Hall's Chronicle from 1548, includes "old'': "He forgat the olde adage, saynge in tyme of peace provyde for warre.'' In 1594, Thomas Nashe wrote "`Much company, much knavery' - as true as that old adage 'Much courtesy, much subtlety.'' Force of habit seems to keep "old'' and "adage'' linked.
There is also considerable evidence that people use "adage'' for sayings that are not very old at all. This is a fairly recent shift in usage that dates to the early part of the 20th century. Consider, for example, the following tongue-in-cheek passage from a 1950 issue of Publishers Weekly: "Some people forget the lovely adage that people who live in glass houses should undress in the dark.'' This shift is reflected in some dictionary definitions where "old saying'' is reduced to "saying.'' Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "adage'' as a "saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation.''
I think your column is great and look forward to reading it. I have a question: where did "lounge lizard'' come from? M.L., Edinburgh, Texas
Since its first appearance as American slang in 1917, "lounge lizard'' has surprisingly shown up in nearly every decade. A lounge lizard is typically depicted as a well-dressed man who frequents the establishments in which the rich gather with the intention of seducing a wealthy woman with his flattery and deceptive charm. The term presumably owes something to the cold and insinuating quality of reptiles. It has also been suggested that the name derives in part from the "lizards,'' that is, shoes made from crocodile or snakeskin, that were sometimes sported by such men, but there is no solid evidence of this.
Eventually, the lounge lizard as social parasite decided to play chameleon and take on many appearances. "Lounge lizard'' then became a generalized term applying to any frequenter of nightclubs. In the 1980s, it had a brief stint as a descriptor of a young person whose life revolved around the alternative, punk nightclub scene.
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