Five and ten years ago in LLOG

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Brett Reynolds wrote:

It occurred to me that now that LL is (well) over 10 years old, it would be a nice feature to recycle old but still relevant posts, like BoingBoing does. So, each week you could pick out a couple of great posts from a decade earlier.

As an initial experiment, today I'll link to the posts from five and ten years ago — and then update one post from 3/11/2004.

"Clausal coordination of nonidentical illocutions (Parental Advisory: Nerdy)", 3/12/2004
"Harm's way: In and out since 1661", 3/12/2004
"Fear not your toes, though they are strong", 3/12/2004
"Terrorism and the language of the devil", 3/12/2004

"Der Cupertino-Effekt", 3/12/2009
"Franco-Croatian Squid in pepper sauce", 3/12/2009
"'Passive Voice' — 1397-2009 — R.I.P.", 3/12/2009

And let's take a look at "Trodding: Winning or fading?", in its entirety:

Sally Thomason posted recently about "trodding" for "treading" in the NYT, and speculated that "trod might replace [tread] completely in the not too distant future."

I thought I'd check if Altavista's "date range" feature might help confirm this hypothesis.

Time period
percent trodding

For what they're worth, these numbers actually suggest that trodding's market share is decreasing slightly. I'd be hesitant to draw strong conclusions about sociolinguistic trends from this kind of data, though, since the distribution of sources, genres etc. on the web has not been constant over time. Since the observed "trend" in this case is weak at best, it's probably not worth trying to sharpen up the experiment.

Altavista is now Yahoo!, and no longer offers a "date range" feature. But the Google Books ngram search didn't exist back in 2004, and now offers a quick opportunity to sharpen up the experiment:

We can also check on trodding trends in the NYT, using the "Specific Dates" feature on the NYT site search page, and limiting the results to "articles".

Between 3/13/1984 and 3/12/1994, there were 7 instances of trodding and 176 instances of treading, or 3.8% trodding; between 3/13/1994 and 3/12/2004, there were 10 instances of trodding and 338 of treading, or 2.9% trodding; between 3/13/2004 and 3/12/2014, there were 7 instances of trodding and 603 instances of treading, or 1.1% trodding.

So the Google Books ngram search shows a long-term  trodding trend, while the NYT site search shows a shorter-term un-trodding tendency. Still a mixed message.




  1. A.D. said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 8:53 am

    I teach Latin, so I understand the passive voice more than the 'man on the street', but as I am trying to type this post I have had to type and re-type because I was mortified that I might be using the passive voice in some English specific manner.

    e.g. 'I was mortified'

    What I was hoping to type was that I'd love to read more on the passive voice, perhaps an entire recycled post on the passive voice? I am sure that I could just search tags, but, as a new reader of LLog, I can't join the conversation of five-year-old posts.

    [(myl) A good place to "read more on the passive voice" is Geoff Pullum's page at Edinburgh on "Confusion over avoiding the passive". And you're welcome to continue the discussion here.]

  2. A.D. said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 8:56 am

    The fact that I might be using the passive voice mortified me.(?)

  3. Todd said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 10:06 am


    Just wait. Soon enough, some self-proclaimed writing expert or editor will decry the passive voice on the pages of some newspaper or magazine or blog, and of course do so while using the passive voice. And when that happens, LL will be there, and the conversation will continue.

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    I just saw "tread" as either the past tense or the past participle, but darn it, I can't remember where.

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 10:59 am

    Anyway, there seem to be plenty of Google hits on "have tread the" where "tread" s the past participle. I don't have time now for anything more quantitative.

  6. Daniel Barkalow said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 11:36 am

    A.D.: That's not really an English-specific issue. Consider the Latin sentence "Fessus est". It means something like "He is weak" (principally suggesting exhaustion), and is presumably not a passive. But it's possible that we've just lost all record of a verb "fettere" (to exhaust), and could equally mean "He has been worn out". We wouldn't even know from usage, because the overlap in what situations these two translations might be appropriately used is too great. And it seems to me really likely there was an exchange like this between Latin-speaking kids at some point:

    A: …et leonem fettit.
    B: "fettit"?
    A: Scis, "fettere". Te fessit, fessus es.
    B: Istud non est verbum!

  7. chris y said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    Are Latin deponent verbs (like loquor and utor, which have passive form but presumably represent an obsolete middle, thought to have had an active voice at some point in the prehistory of the language? I would instinctively class "I was mortified" as analogous to "mortuus sum", though less extreme.

  8. Ted said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

    @Todd: Yes, but LL will most likely be there in the person of GKP, who generally does not provide us with the usual means of continuing the conversation.

  9. dw said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 9:35 pm

    Re "tread": the verb itself seems pretty uncommon in AmE relative to BrE. As a native Brit who's emigrated to the US and subsequently had children there, I've had to train myself to say "Don't step on your little brother" instead of my instinctive "Don't tread on your little brother."

  10. Rick said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 12:13 am

    I might just be tired, but I first read "five and ten years ago" as being a circumlocution for "fifteen years ago".

  11. Mark J. said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 12:43 am

    Macalester College's Department of Multicultural Life is calling out

    Hebe-jebes is used to describe feeling intense apprehension and
    nervousness and has at its base “hebe” which is a slur for a Jewish
    person. Alternatives: jittery, suspicious, doubtful, uneasy.

    I am assuming they mean "heebie-jeebies" which I have never heard used as a slur.

    Although a bit of searching did lead me to this…

    Which is totally on my reading list now.


    "You guys" seems to be a point of contention as well.

    “I don’t consciously do it, but I’ll say ‘You guys!’ or ‘We should do something together, guys!’ and I don’t even consciously…like, usually I'm addressing a group of all girls,”

    Sorry for the right wing website….

    The video is here though…

  12. Mark J. said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 2:41 am

    The " you guys" comment was from a second language student. Nothing to see here other than the heebie-jeebies.

  13. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 4:31 am

    @ chris y

    Yes they are remnants of middle forms, e.g. sequor has middle cognates hepomai and sacate in Greek and Sanskrit. But that doesn't mean they always had active forms.

  14. Adam Funk said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 4:53 am

    Preterit-present verbing is alive and well in Modern English!

  15. dw said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

    @chris y, @Pflaumbaum: sequitur is an interesting case: according to Sihler it was a Proto-Indo-European middle from the root *sekw – "see", thus meaning "keep in sight".

  16. Rod Johnson said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

    A.D., if "I was mortified" is a passive, then who or what mortified you?

  17. CrisisMaven said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

    I believe one of the greatest dangers for the survival of certain words (synonyms especially) lies with these "automatic readability" tests that are applied in ever increasing number to online texts. As has been shown in various analyses, e.g. with the State of the Union address over the centuries, sentence length and word length go down precipitously, all for the fetish of "addressing the average seventh grader" in reading ability. Now even the search engines have started to rank search results so that a "better" Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning or "automatic" readability score is placed above the more complex syllabic and grammatical choices. Hence, since most people only choose from the first ten (at most) search results, they increasingly get exposed to simple grammar and a preference of monosyllabic words over polysyllabic. This means that they will eventually forget (or, if younger, never learn) the riches of the linguistic heritage. They will eventually not be able to understand those older books in the original. Then "bowdlerized" versions will be printed (Plato and Kant in monosyllables with a maximum of 13 words per sentence …) and after that a modern form of illiteracy that prides itself on its efficiency. And don't expect complex thoughts to be thought if they can't be written.

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