Pathing the way

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AKMA writes:

A student paper crossed my desk this week, in which the author wrote that the Letter to the Hebrews "pathed the way" for an understanding that Christ's superior sacrifice renders redundant the daily sacrifice in the Temple.  

A quick Google check for the phrase (new to me) shows about 167,000 results; it doesn't seem to show up in the eggcorn database or the forums (though I may be searching poorly). The substitution makes ample sense (apart from the nonstandard verb "pathe"), but I hadn't noticed it until today.

I suspect that the Google search count is an unreliable as such counts generally are, but the pattern is certainly Out There (though many of the examples have clearly been written by people whose native language is other than English):

Mr Moog helped path the way for a whole range of electronic music genres [link]
With the consecutive poor financial results, it is time for me to hand over the responsibility to a new leadership team to path the way for a new era. [link]
However, after September 11, we are challenged to path the way for a kind of sustainable human rights awareness! [link]

These new techniques pathed the way for modern surgery and also contributed to Aesculap's breakthrough. [link]
In the middle period Petri Kontiola, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Stanislav Chistov pathed the way for the win before again Kuznetsov added another one at 52:52. [link]
This pathed the way forward for the Shorthorn breed and gained back industry respect/reputation and demand amongst the commercial beef industry in Australia. [link]

Rugby scholarship paths the way for future stars [link]
Real-time marketing paths the way to delight consumers [link]
Explore and experience together the lively celebration of 500 different activities which paths the way for you to interact, express yourself, communicate with style and have fun in your own way. [link]

Is Samsung pathing the way for cable free charging? [link]
C-Cure is pathing the way for a healthy ticker [link]
Seeing as my concept addresses almost every issue, pathing the way for more complex additions, what is it they are hoping to accomplish and is my idea any good but not something they would ever think of pursuing? [link]

And there are a handful of literary precedents, e.g. William Watt's A Prayer (1860):

May my sins be all forgiven
Through His all-atoning blood,
Which hath pathed the way to heaven
In an overflowing flood.

But there are two paths to verbal pathing. One is the always-available conversion of a noun to a verb, of which Calvin famously said that "Verbing weirds language":

The other path involves an analogy to the pair bath/bathe, in which the verbal form falls into the FACE lexical set, and thus becomes phonetically confusable with pave.

It took a while for this second version to occur to me, so that at first I was puzzled by the re-interpretation of "paved the way" as "pathed the way". But when pathed is pronounced with the FACE vowel,  the only difference between pathed and paved is the interdental voiced fricative /ð/ vs. the labiodental voice fricative /v/, in a syllable-final cluster before /d/. And /peɪðd/ vs. /peɪvd/ is about near to a homonymous pair as non-homonyms can get in English.

The FACE-vowel version has been around long enough to make it into the Oxford Middle English Dictionary as pathen, v., and into the OED as pathe, v., glossed as "In early use: to pave (a street, floor, etc.). In later use only fig. in to pathe the way = to pave the way".

The OED speculates, plausibly enough, that this is "Apparently a variant of pave v., probably by association with path n.", and further remarks that

Examples from before the 20th cent. not having the -ed or -ing form are rare, so that the spelling and pronunciation of the base form are unclear; but compare paithment n., with Middle English long ā and its later reflexes. In recent use the base form (with and without the 3rd singular present ending -s) has been spelt pathe, implying the pronunciation /peɪð/ .






  1. edithcuth said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 6:02 am

    It took *me* a while to realise that the way I'd initially read "pathed" (with the FACE vowel) isn't necessarily how a native speaker might have read it. So I was a little bit puzzled by your puzzlement… Now I'm setting up an experiment in my head where we present "pathed" to native and non native speakers of English and ask them to pick which word it rhymes with (say, "paved" or "patched").

    (Also, tangent – intervocalic TH becomes V in some varieties of English but I assume this is just a coincidence, as this doesn't AFAIK involve a vowel change.)

  2. Moonfriend said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 6:04 am

    I once got a quote for some paving work in the back yard and the tradie called them "pathers" instead of "pavers". We had a good laugh about it.

  3. Eric P Smith said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 6:50 am

    I used to come across a parallel /v/ vs /ð/ malapropism as a driving intructor. I would tell me pupils to adjust the door mirrors so that they could see just a "sliver" of the side of the car. Often it was repeated to me as a "slither". I have also heard "coral wreathes" for "coral reefs". I wonder if these arose as overcorrections by people whose dialect lacks interdentals or who had difficulty with interdentals in childhood.

    [(myl) Indeed "slither of" for "sliver of" and "coral wreaths" for "coral reefs" both seem to be pretty common.]

  4. Brett said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 7:49 am

    When I was about four years old, I was disappointed to learn that the pretty coral formations at the aquarium were not actually called "wreaths," which seemed a very apt name.

  5. Andrew Bay said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 8:56 am

    From a CompSci perspective, "Pathing A Way" is finding a route between two locations. It still looks weird.

  6. Levantine said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 9:37 am

    Thank you to Eric P Smith for teaching me something new today: I had always thought the word was "slither".

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 10:19 am

    I wonder how one might figure out or at least plausibly guesstimate what percentage of the users-in-writing of this verb would use which vowel if saying it aloud?

  8. Will said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 10:27 am

    Echoing Andrew Bay here, I'm extremely used to seeing path as a verb from computer science (often, but certainly not exclusively, in its gerund form) so it took me some time to think to pronounce "pathed" as /peɪðd/ rather than /pæθt/

  9. mike said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 10:38 am

    re: the high number of search results for "pathing" — this term is thrown around in programmer/IT-speak for operations that involve creating or resolving paths, as in file and directory paths. Obviously, that usage is orthogonal with the phenomenon under discussion, but it might account for the number of hits, if nothing else.!search/pathing

  10. Roger Lustig said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 10:53 am

    Makes me think of newsreels.

  11. mollymooly said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

    A semantic distinction between verbs "bath" and "bathe" exists for some but not all speakers.

  12. BZ said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

    When I first read your first "pathed the way", I was thinking it was supposed to be "passed away" and wondered how the eggcorn had anything to do with dying (I am Jewish and have plenty of ignorance of the New Testament to make such a mistake).

    There is a verb "bath"? Ah-Ha! "Chiefly British"! Never heard that one before. Now I'm curious what the distinction is. Is it like "to gift" versus "to give" where the former could be a fancy way of saying "give" or implying an actual gift? Does there have to be a bath(tub) involved to bath, but not to bathe?

  13. Rubrick said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

    I believe this usage was popularized by Anne Patheway.

  14. maidhc said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 4:26 pm

    I believe it was the team of RP Weston and Bert Lee who composed the music-hall favourite:

    A muvver was barfin' 'er biby one night,
    The youngest of ten and a tiny young mite,
    The muvver was poor an' the biby was thin,
    Only a skelington covered in skin;

    illustrating not only the use of "to bath" but also the varying nature of the consonants in question.

  15. RP said,

    March 11, 2014 @ 4:54 am

    @Eric P Smith,

    It seems "slither" for "sliver" is sufficiently established that "slither" 4b in the OED says " Something smooth and slippery; a smoothly sliding mass; = sliver n.1 1". Oxford Dictionaries Online ( ) is a bit less accepting of this usage. It has a definition of "slither" as "sliver", but marks it as "informal" (as well as "British").

  16. Brett said,

    March 11, 2014 @ 7:49 am

    Come to think of it, I had the "slither"/"sliver" confusion as a child as well, but it went the opposite way from what most people here are describing. I got a lot of slivers in my hands as a young child, so I was familiar with that word, but I initially thought that "slither" was a homophone.

  17. Craig said,

    March 11, 2014 @ 12:46 pm

    For anecdotal and untrustworthy evidence, this Minnesotan here catches himself alternating between "pathed the way" and "paved the way" as pronunciations without any semantic shift or distinguishing that the word in the cliché is any different.

    Are we sure it's "bathing her baby" and not "barfing her baby" as a way of saying burping him?

  18. Craig said,

    March 11, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

    Ok found the rest of the lyrics make the song clear, never mind that maidhc

  19. Levantine said,

    March 11, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    Craig, "barf" always struck me as an Americanism, which is another reason that it would have been unlikely in that particular song.

  20. Mark Stephenson said,

    March 11, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

    I grew up in the UK, where "bath" is commonly used as a verb, meaning to give someone a bath. The past tense is "bathed", pronounced /bɑːθt/ in RP.

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