Eat up with coronavirus cases

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From Charles Belov:

A story on COVID-19 in Mississippi, "After Big Thanksgiving Dinners, Plan Small Christmas Funerals, Health Experts Warn", includes the following sentence:

“If I were in DeSoto, I wouldn’t go out,” Dr. Dobbs said during the MSDH roundtable late last week. “I would stay in my house as much as possible. Because DeSoto is eat up with coronavirus cases.”

I'd never heard "is eat up" before, so I wondered whether it might be a typo. I searched on the phrase "is eat up" and, aside from coincidental other occurrences, found "Wife's stepsister is eat up with BLM" and "I’m from South Carolina and my Facebook is eat up with this dumb crap!!!" so apparently it is a part of English.

The phrase "eat up with", meaning something like "full of (or consumed by) something negatively evaluated"  (and usually pronounced "et", as noted in the comments), is definitely Out There. In Chapter 5 of Pride and Prejudice, Lady Lucas says of Mr. Darcy [emphasis added]:

“I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”

In Volume 6 of Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1720), there's a song "The Bath Teazers: Or a Comical Description of the Diversions at Bath", with the lines

I'll tell thee Dick where I have lately been,
There's rare doings at Bath,
Amongst Beauties divine, the like was ne'er seen,
There's rare doings at Bath,
And some dismal Wits that were eat up with Spleen,
There's rare doings at Bath.
There's rare doings at Bath.
Raffling and Fidling, and Piping and Singing,
There's rare doings at Bath.

And a 1709 play by Susanna Centlivre, The Busie Body, has this passage:

Char. Do but mark his sheepish Look, Sir George.

Marpl. Dear Charles, don't o'erwhelm a Man—already under insupportable Affliction. I'm sure I always intend to serve my Friends; but if my malicious Stars deny the Happiness, is the fault mine?

Sir Geo. Never mind him, Mr. Marplot, he is eat up with Spleen. But tell me, what says Miranda?

Marpl. Says—nay, we are all undone there too.

Char. I told you so; nothing prospers that he undertakes.

From James Thomson's "The Castle of Indolence", 1830:

442 ‘Of vanity the mirror,’ this was call'd:
443 Here, you a muckworm of the town might see,
444 At his dull desk, amid his ledgers stall'd,
445 Eat up with carking care and penury;
446 Most like to carcase parch'd on gallow-tree.

From Steve Earle's 2011 novel  Never Get Out of This World Alive:

Hank's leaning against the examining table, his pants down to his knees, his shorts pulled down just far enough to expose a patch of translucent flesh the size of a half-dollar. He looks like hell, eat up with the gaunt-ass, Doc used to call it, his skin the color of spoiled milk, but he does appear to be solid enough to stick a needle in and when Hank turns and glares back over his shoulder, Doc can only stare slack-jawed in return.



  1. john burke said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 9:13 pm

    English people often pronounce "ate" (preterite or past participle of "eat") to rhyme with "bet." (See for example Anthony Hopkins, in "Silence of the Lambs": "I et his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti"). Is this also the case with the "eat up" construction in the Southern US?

  2. Andrew Usher said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 9:16 pm

    Surely in this phrase 'eat' is /ɛt/ as it historically should be; in that case the phonetic echo of 'fed up' (not entirely unrelated in meaning) might serve to support the phrase. A spelling pronunciation is an idiom like this would be very surprising.

    Of course, standard grammar would be 'eaten up', which would seem a lot less strange in most of these contexts; 'eat' /ɛt/ was the preterite, but preterite/participle confusions have been widespread in nonstandard English for a long time.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  3. Andrew Usher said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 9:49 pm

    Comments were posted simultaneously, wondering the same thing. Again I state that in standard English eat/et/ate is only the preterite, not the participle.

  4. Anna in PDX said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 10:12 pm

    That quote from Pride and Prejudice is Mrs Bennet. Not Lady Lucas.

  5. Krogerfoot said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 12:03 am

    Andrew Usher and john burke, this is the first I've heard of ate being a participle in England. Not eaten?

  6. Krogerfoot said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 12:37 am

    I guess I overlooked part of Andrew Usher's comment. I wonder: do we have confirmation from Americans that it's pronounced /ɛt/ in "eat up with X" constructions? I'm checking in with Mississippian family and friends about it.

  7. John Swindle said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 1:04 am

    This may be of interest:

  8. Krogerfoot said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 3:07 am

    Mississippians report that it is indeed pronounced /ɛt/. I've heard the pronunciation countless times but never dreamed it would be spelled "eat."

  9. Murray Smith said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 8:38 am

    My father told me a story about Will Rogers, the homespun comedian during the Great Depression. He arrived for a visit to a family who were just sitting down to dinner. When they invited him to join them, he said, No thanks I’ve et. They said Will, we know you know better than to talk like that. What do you mean? He replied, These days a lot of people are saying they’ve eaten when they ain’t et.

  10. Mark P said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 8:43 am

    I live in NW. Georgia and am familiar with “eat up.” It’s not common in my experience. It’s usually a humorous affectation, and, if the speaker is really into it, it’s pronounced to rhyme with bet. I’ve worked with people from Mississippi, and I would not be surprised to learn that they mostly say “et”.

  11. Cervantes said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 9:50 am

    "Et" is of course a past tense dialect form, i.e. a way of pronouncing "ate." I done et already, e.g. So et up translates as eaten up, perfectly standard. But some people may transcribe et as eat, trying to clean up the speaker's pronunciation. I think that's what's going on in many of these cases.

  12. Adrian Bailey said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 10:11 am

    I would write it as "De Soto is ate up with…"

  13. Dr. Decay said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 10:33 am

    Maybe this is well known. A joke (pun?) told by my father who lived most of his life in or near Chicago:

    Mother put aside two chocolates for Brutus and Caesar for when they got home. But when they arrived, the chocolates were gone. Brutus exclaimed, "What happened?". Caesar said, "Et tu Brute."

    I don't recall ever having heard "et" used like that when I heard it, but I didn't need an explanantion.

  14. Rodger C said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 10:54 am

    Coleridge: "It ate the food it ne'er had eat." I was pleased to read this in tenth grade; another way in which West Virginia speech was derived from an older literary English. In my childhood environment it was pronounced the same as present "eat" and was part of a pattern whereby -en was systematically dropped from participles.


    November 22, 2020 @ 11:38 am

    "She took, she eat." Climactic moment from Milton's "Paradise Lost," and it's pronounced "et."

  16. djw said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 1:31 pm

    70-something Texan here. I heard "et up with" *a lot* when I was growing up in my small east-central Texas town; I guess we had a lot of agitated people here back then. I always assumed it was spelled "eat," but I suspect that I also heard that pronunciation, too. It was so totally idiomatic that I don't think I ever associated it with the verb "eat," just as I have never associated "gosh" or "goodbye" with "god" except when somebody has told me that's where they come from.

  17. Chas Belov said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 4:52 pm

    Thank you! Interesting to learn this is retained from across the pond, like much of the Pittsburgh English I grew up with.

  18. Chas Belov said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 4:54 pm

    And the relevant Google Ngram: eaten up with, eat up with, et up with

  19. Lester said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 8:30 pm

    "Ate" as past participle is firmly established in baseball. The shortstop fields a three-hopper, so by the time it's in his glove, the batter has nearly reached first. The shortstop makes a desperation throw that misses the first baseman's mitt badly and ends up in the dugout, and the batter is awarded second base. Announcer: "He shoulda ate that ball."

  20. Jonathan said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 1:21 pm

    As well as the phrase: "That ball ate the shortstop up."

  21. Trogluddite said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 3:27 pm

    In Yorkshire, we might say; "etten up with"; though I've certainly heard "et up" here too.

    In this dialect, the first syllable of the past participle "eaten" gets the same /ɛt/ pronounciation as past tense "ate". This doesn't happen for other related words spelled with "eat" (spoken as "eet"); but "eaten" becomes "etten" (usually with a glottal stop for the 't' – roughly [ɛʔ(ə)n]).

    So, hereabouts at least, "et" could be either the local pronounciation of "ate", or a shortening of "eaten". A precedent for the latter case would be "het up", which according to Merriam-Webster derives from "heated up".

  22. Trogluddite said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 3:34 pm

    * M-W points to the former, not latter, case – dialect past tense.

  23. ohwilleke said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 3:50 pm

    The fact that a phrase was in use grammatically in English in the 18th century does not itself mean that it is still grammatical in English (although the recent references suggest that it is returning to use).

    Just as languages can add words or grammatical constructions, it can also lose them and then regain them again, later on, independently. I tend to think that this is what happened here.

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 7:21 pm

    I don't think anyone is claiming with 'eat up with' is grammatical in standard English; indeed, there is universal agreement that 'eaten' is the only acceptable past participle. No one's mentioned it so far, but one peculiarity of the phrase is the choice of the preposition 'with' rather than 'by': the most common form of the expression in standard English is surely 'consumed by' ('consumed' is of course a synonym of 'eaten up') – would anyone say 'consumed with'? Similarly it's 'possessed by' (a desire), not 'possessed with'. This use of 'with' is archaic at best, which is another reason I can't believe the expression has been forgotten and re-invented as the last comment speculates.

    'Het up' does certainly come from 'heat', but I assume was consciously jocular rather than a genuine dialectal form. But we do innovate forms like 'sped' and 'pled' which can be used as both preterite and participle, so 'het' is not impossible.

    If I don't greatly misread the 1720 quote in the original post show plural there's, which is always claimed to by relatively recent. Is this genuine evidence?

    (Chas Belov: The Google results are surely contaminated by literal uses of 'eat' in 'eaten up with'.)

  25. KevinM said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 8:49 pm

    Fwiw, @AUsher: "consumed with passion" sounds idiomatic to me, though "by" is possibly more common. (AmE, NYC area)
    Sonnet 73, "Consumed with that which it was nourished by" – Archaic? just a case of prosodic variation?

  26. Philip Taylor said,

    November 24, 2020 @ 3:43 am

    "Consumed with passion", which is the first phrase that came to mind for me, is also idiomatic in British English.

  27. Kate Bunting said,

    November 24, 2020 @ 8:13 am

    Patrick O'Brian, in his seafaring novels set in the first two decades of the 19th century, has characters ask "Can it be ate?" of unusual creatures they have caught.
    ‘But is he edible, sir? Can he be ate? He ain’t unwholesome?" (from 'The Nutmeg of Consolation')

  28. Josh Steichmann said,

    November 24, 2020 @ 2:51 pm

    Interesting echo with a phrase I hear (and use) a lot more often: "het up," which has a similar sense — this time a contraction of "heated."

  29. Andrew Usher said,

    November 24, 2020 @ 6:41 pm

    'Het up' was just mentioned. It is not a _contraction_ of 'heated', but an intended alternative participial form, whether real or invented.

    On 'consumed with':
    I suppose I stand corrected. I do not know why this sense of 'with' (to, effectively, form passives where 'by' would be standard) persists in these few phrases only.

  30. Philip Anderson said,

    November 25, 2020 @ 6:13 pm

    @Andrew Usher
    “But we do innovate forms like 'sped' and 'pled' which can be used as both preterite and participle“
    ‘Pled’ like ‘dove’ is an American innovation, but ‘sped’ is as acceptable as ‘speeded’, and was more so in the past. A Shakespearean. concordance gives 10 examples of the first to 2 of the other.

  31. Chas Belov said,

    November 26, 2020 @ 1:30 am

    @Andrew Usher: Okay, let's try to be more specific

    are {eaten|eat|et} up with ngram produces the most "eat up with" results

    is {eaten|eat|et} up with ngram

    was {eaten|eat|et} up with ngram

    am and were only presented the standard eaten

  32. Philip Taylor said,

    November 26, 2020 @ 5:08 am

    I I were to write "he pleaded guilty" using the /pled/ form, I would spell it "plead".

  33. Amy W said,

    November 26, 2020 @ 11:50 am

    A lifetime resident of the Missouri Ozarks, I would say I'm most familiar with the expression "eat up with cancer," which I would pronounce with the same vowel as the present tense verb.

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