"Overgrowin'" in San Francisco?

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From C.B., an exchange in S.F.:

This week I heard an unusual usage from a random stranger on the street.

I was questioning whether a stairway in the adjacent block – which was not visible from where I was without climbing a steep hill first – had been repaired and could once again be used for through access. They replied that it had been, "But it's overgrowin'."

I couldn't tell whether they were using the word "overgrowing" where I would have expected "overgrown" or whether they were pronouncing "overgrown" with syllabic "n".

Or maybe it was grow + -en, like "eaten" or "given"? The OED's first citation for overgrown "Grown over with vegetation, weeds, etc.; covered with plants that have been allowed to grow unchecked" is from 1450 [emphasis added]:

if the wyse vyner vseth to kerue the ouergrowen braunches of his vyne, wondre the not.

On the other hand, there's this from Louis Salomon, "The straight-cut ditch: Thoreau on education", 1962 [emphasis added]:

So what it comes to is this: while pedagogues may spoil the grace of many a spirit by taking out its natural curves and forcing it to run through a straight-cut ditch, even a free, meandering (or musketaquidding) brook may be the better for having its channel deepened, its banks cleared of overgrowing weeds, its source kept pure and uncontaminated, its entire course protected from use as a sewer for waste. This, metaphorically, is what Thoreau was advocating in these many animadversions on the care and feeding of the human mind.

Or this, from Andrey Sirin et al., "Assessing wood and soil carbon losses from a forest-peat fire in the boreo-nemoral zone", 2021:

Ikonos imagery from 12 June 2011 shows abundant fallen, partially burned tree trunks at the burned site. At the start of our study (2013), the burned area was already overgrowing; the dead stems and trunks had been removed with only some dead stems and stumps remaining.



  1. Laura Morland said,

    February 26, 2024 @ 8:16 am

    It would be helpful to know whether C.B. noticed "overgrowth" on the stairs, once he climbed them. Because, to my mind, it's unlikely that a recently repaired stairway would be already remarkable for its overgrowth. Shrubs, branches, ivy, etc., are normally trimmed during a repair of a public stairway.

    But maybe what "recently" means in the mind of the San Francisco stroller is as long ago as a few months?

    (Since I live less than 15 miles away, I'm also curious on what street this "overgrowin'" staircase is located.)

    P.S. My guess, as a Bay Area resident, is that C.B.'s interlocutor meant "overgrowing," indicating a progression in progress.

  2. David L said,

    February 26, 2024 @ 10:19 am

    "Overgrowing" doesn't strike me as a particularly unusual word, although I would use it in the adjectival sense, as in the quote from Salomon. For the repaired path and in the other example, from Sirin et al, I would say "getting/becoming overgrown."

  3. Robert Coren said,

    February 26, 2024 @ 10:24 am

    I would argue that the uses of "overgrowing" in the two examples cited at the end of the post are somewhat different in meaning from normal "overgrown", which, as in the case of the staircase in the original citation, indicates that a place or object has been covered by vegetative growth. In the Salomon quotation, it is the weeds that would have been "overgrowing", i.e., in the process of growing over the banks. The Sirin quotation is closer, in that it is the area that is undergoing change, but it refers to an ongoing process. suggestion that the area will not be considered "overgrown" until this process is complete.

  4. Chas Belov said,

    February 26, 2024 @ 12:56 pm

    Perhaps my answerer was channeling 1450 English. Fascinating.

    @Laura Morland: I chose not to attempt the stairs, not being fond of overgrown, overgrowing, or overgrowen pathways.

  5. CuConnacht said,

    February 26, 2024 @ 2:17 pm

    I remember Gerald Ford pronouncing "known" as "knowen", to rhyme with benzoin.

  6. RfP said,

    February 26, 2024 @ 6:50 pm

    @Chas Belov:

    Yes, but which street? Which pathway?

    Inquiring minds want to know—and thereby grow!

  7. Bloix said,

    February 27, 2024 @ 2:02 am

    I used to work for a man who used syllabic n after vowels in some one-syllable words – phone was phowen, nine and mine were nyen and myen. But I don't recall that he did this for multi-syllabic words, as you recall from Ford. He was very well educated and professionally successful, and he had no other unusual pronunciations that I can recall. He was from Peoria but had lived most of his life on the east coast, and his accent was pretty standard central US except for this one feature.

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