Liturgical -ed

« previous post | next post »

A couple of days ago, in response to John Gonzalez's question "Where does this unit rank among the most beloved Philly sports teams of all time?", Phil Sheridan answered:

For me, this team has to rank up there with the Flyers' Stanley Cup-winning teams for sheer beloved-osity.

This reminded me of a question from a reader that arrived in my inbox the same day:

I wonder if you know of any explanation for why the final -ed is made into a syllable in some words used as adjectives, such as blessed, beloved, learned, and dogged, though when these words are used as verbs, the final -ed is not pronounced as a syllable.

The short answer: liturgical habit protected a few words from a sound change, half a millennium ago (and also, "dogged" is not derived from the verb dog). A longer answer is after the jump.

Let's start with the OED entry for -ed1, which tells us that

the formative of the pa. pple. of wk. vbs., had in OE. the forms -ed, -ad, -od (-ud), where the vowel represents (though not with uniform consistency) the thematic suffix characteristic of the class to which the vb. belongs; the ppl. suffix proper being -d […] In some OE. vbs. the suffix is added immediately to the root-syllable, and therefore appears without preceding vowel as -d, or after a voiceless cons. as -t; e.g. in seald SOLD, f. sȩllan to SELL, boht BOUGHT, f. bycʒan to BUY. In ME. the several vowelled forms of the suffix (where they were not contracted) were levelled to -ed (-id, -yd), and this -ed is in most cases still retained in writing, although the pronunc. is now normally vowelless (d), or after voiceless cons. (t), as in robed (rəʊbd), hoped (həʊpt). The full pronunc. (ɪd) regularly occurs in ordinary speech only in the endings -ted, -ded; but it is frequently required by the metre of verse, and is still often used in the public reading of the Bible and the Liturgy. A few words, such as blessed, cursed, beloved, which are familiar chiefly in religious use, have escaped the general tendency to contraction when used as adjs.; and the adjectival use of learned is distinguished by its pronunc. (ˈlɜːnɪd) from its use as simple pple. (lɜːnd).

The vowels of some other past participles, such as "alleged", may have been preserved by that other liturgical profession, the law. And other cases, such as ragged and dogged, were never past participles at all, but are instead descended from OE -ede, which the OED says (in its entry for -ed2)

is appended to ns. in order to form adjs. connoting the possession or the presence of the attribute or thing expressed by the n. […] The suffix is now added without restriction to any n. from which it is desired to form an adj. with the sense 'possessing, provided with, characterized by' (something); e.g. in toothed, booted, wooded, moneyed, cultured, diseased, jaundiced, etc., and in parasynthetic derivatives, as dark-eyed, seven-hilled, leather-aproned, etc. In bigoted, crabbed, dogged, the suffix has a vaguer meaning.

Most of these -ed2 words are pronounced just as -ed1 words are, but a few retain the [ɪd] pronunciation sometimes or always, perhaps because of artificial archaism associated with poetic usage. This artificiality was resented by some prominent 18th and 19th century scholars, whose peeves are recorded as the OED's only citations for -ed2:

1779 JOHNSON Gray Wks. IV. 302 There has of late arisen a practice of giving to adjectives derived from substantives, the termination of participles: such as the 'cultured' plain..but I was sorry to see in the lines of a scholar like Gray, the 'honied' spring.
1832 COLERIDGE Table-T. (1836) 171, I regret to see that vile and barbarous vocable talented..The formation of a participle passive from a noun is a licence that nothing but a very peculiar felicity can excuse.

There are several kinds of evidence about when the vowels were lost. One sort of evidence comes from syllable-counting in metered verse. Thus Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which is written in (mostly) ten-syllable lines, famously starts

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour

or in modernized spelling, with the syllabic status of the -ed endings emphasized:

When that April with its showers sweet
The drought of March has piercèd to the root
And bathèd every vein in such liquor
Of which virtue engendered is the flower

A bit later, the poet promises

To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me –
And whiche they weren and of what degree

And again, the meter of the middle line tells us that Chaucer's version of "seemed" had two syllables:

"of each of them so as it seemèd me"

Less than three centuries later, for Shakespeare, similar words are almost all one syllable shorter, pronounced (in this respect) in the modern fashion. Usually, though not always, he also spells these words in a way that makes the vowel loss clear.

Let's compare the same three words we just examined in Chaucer. In one of his sonnets, Shakespeare calls his heart "A closet neuer pearst with christall eyes", and in A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of the clowns is "Pierst through the heart with your stearne cruelty".

In Titus Andronicus, we're told "So pale did shine the Moone on Priamus / VVhen he by night lay bathd in Maiden blood".

And in Venus and Adonis

No floure was nigh, no grasse, hearb, leaf, or weed,
But stole his blood, and seemd with him to bleed.

In all these cases, both the spelling and the meter make the change clear. The spelling is still variable at that time, of course. Thus in his poem "A Lover's Complaint", we find

47 Found yet moe letters sadly penn'd in blood,
48 With sleided silk feat and affectedly
49 Enswathed, and seal'd to curious secrecy.
50 These often bathed she in her fluxive eyes,
51 And often kiss'd, and often 'gan to tear

In line 50, "bathed" must be monosyllabic to fit the meter, but it's written with an 'e'.

And we also find in Shakespeare the seeds of the modern exceptions to the vowel loss, e.g. in The Rape of Lucrece we have the monosyllabic preterite "learned" in line 630

VVhen patternd by thy fault fowle sin may say,
He learnd to sin, and thou didst teach the way.

and the two-syllable adjectival past participle in line 811:

Yea the illiterate that know not how.
To cipher what is writ in learned bookes,
VVill cote my lothsome trespasse in my lookes.

This is exactly the difference expressed e.g. in the AHD's entry, which associates the pronunciation  [ˈlɚ.nɪd] with senses 1 and 2, and [ˈlɚnd] with sense 3:

1. Possessing or demonstrating profound, often systematic knowledge; erudite.
2. Directed toward scholars: a learned journal.
3. Acquired by learning or experience: learned behavior; a learned response.

Similarly, we find a two-syllable "ragged" in the first line of one of the sonnets:

Then let not winters wragged hand deface
In thee thy summer ere thou be distil'd

I imagine that someone has traced the process carefully during the time between Chaucer and Shakespeare — perhaps someone will give us a citation in the comments.


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 11:46 am

    In the modern respelling of the Canterbury Tales, shouldn't "engendered" be "engend'rèd"?

  2. Karen said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

    Hmmm. Is that "-ede" ending preserved in things like "raggedy"?

  3. John Cowan said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

    Coby: Nobody can say: Chaucer's pentameter just isn't that regular, and occasionally admits extrametrical slack syllables.

    For that matter, the Shakespeare line might be "These often bathèd she in_her fluxive eyes", slurring "in her" together into a single slack, which has the advantage of putting a stress on "she" rather than either "in" (without inverting the foot) or "her" (with inversion). Granted, none of these words are exactly metrically strong, but "she" is the best of the lot.

    I did a bit of poking through the First Folio transcription. Though I examined only the first few of the 5295 occurrences of "ed" (many of which are irrelevant), there are plenty in which "ed" is clearly meant to be read as "èd": for example, Prospero's "The fringed Curtaines of thine eye aduance" and "The wronged Duke of Millaine, Prospero" only scan if we read "fringèd" and "wrongèd". On the other hand, simple "d" or "'d" clearly are non-syllabic wherever they appear.

  4. Sili said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

    "Belovëd, thou hast brought me many flowers"

    Is it Heidi Harley that keeps up with linguistic examples in The Simpsons? I recall the "learnëd/learnt" bit from there, when Homer had a 'little brother', whom he incorrected when he said "Oh, Homer, you are so learnëd".

  5. dveej said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

    Wait…how did you arrive at the fact that "wooded", etc. , "never were past participles"?? The OED citation you append doesn't seem to deal with this one way or the other.

    To my no-linguistics-degree mind, it seems very logical that such adjectives would have been past participles at an earlier stage. I'd love it if you could go into this in more detail.

  6. Karen said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

    For "wooded" to be a past participle, there would have to be a verb "to wood". "A wooded hill" would have to be "a hill which has been wooded" or "a hill someone wooded". Instead, it's an adjective, "a hill characterized by wood".

  7. Mark Liberman said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

    dveej: Wait…how did you arrive at the fact that "wooded", etc. , "never were past participles"??

    Well, as the OED explains, -ed2 is added to nouns, not verbs. The relatively free formation of things like "small-brained" suggests that this is a productive process — "small brained" means "having a small brain", and has nothing to do with the verb used in e.g. "she brained him with a tire iron". If these words were past participles, you'd expect to find a corresponding verb with the right meaning; but you don't. That's the argument, anyhow.

    (And as I explained, by no means all of these -ed2 forms retain the vowel. Some usually or always do, e.g. "dogged", while other generally don't, e.g. "cultured" in the sense of "characterized by elite culture" rather than the sense of "grown artificially in a nutrient medium". )

  8. Jesse Tseng said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

    @Karen re: "raggedy". Computer says no. In fact the OED is not even sure if ragged (adj.1) really comes from rag+ede (and even if it does, do speakers today make any link with the noun rag? I don't. Similarly for dogged…) But there wouldn't have been any reason for the final vowel to become "y" (or more precisely, to disappear in Middle English and reappear in the 19th century as "y"). So it seems that the structure is RAGGED adj.1 + -Y suffix1, although this suffix is normally added to nouns.

  9. Garrett Wollman said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

    myl: you have the AHD pronunciations for "learned" backwards.

    [(myl) That's what I get for cutting and pasting hastily from Weston Ruter's page as I was rushing off to set up for brunch. Should be fixed now.]

  10. Geoff Nunberg said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

    Per John Cowan's comment: the vowel in the –ed suffix may have been preserved well past Shakespeare's time. In his 1712 Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue, Swift wrote:

    There is another Sett of Men who have contributed very must to the spoiling of the English Tongue; I mean the Poets, from the Time of the Restoration. These Gentlemen, although they could not be insensible how much our Language was already overstocked with Monosyllables; yet, to same Time and Pains, introduced that barbarous Custom of abbreviating Words, to fit them to the Measure of their Verses; and this they have frequently done, so very injudiciously, as to form such harsh unharmonious Sounds, that none but a Northern Ear could endure: They have joined the most obdurate Consonants without one intervening Vowel, only to shorten a Syllable: And their Taste in time became so depraved, that what was a first a Poetical Licence, not to be justified, they made their Choice, alledging, that the Words pronounced at length, sounded faint and languid. This was a Pretence to take up the same Custom in Prose; so that most of the Books we see now a-days, are full of those Manglings and Abbreviations. Instances of this Abuse are innumerable: What does Your Lordship think of the Words, Drudg'd, Disturb'd, Rebuk't, Fledg'd, and a thousand others, every where to be met in Prose as well as Verse? Where, by leaving out a Vowel to save a Syllable, we form so jarring a Sound, and so difficult to utter, that I have often wondred how it could ever obtain.

    It isn't easy to know what to make of this — was a disyllabic pronunciation of drudged still a real alternative for Swift, or was he just lamenting its earlier disappearance? But the Restoration and Augustan poets' use of an apostrophe in these words suggests that they felt the need to explicitly indicate that the vowel was to be suppressed, which implies that it might otherwise have been pronounced, at least in certain styles or registers.

  11. dr pepper said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

    @myl: could you explain "dogged' further?

    I know that we use 1 syllable in "it has long dogged my footsteps" and 2 in "the dogged detective", are you saying those words aren't actually related?

  12. Mark Liberman said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

    dr pepper: could you explain "dogged' further?

    The OED gives the etymology of dogged as

    [f. DOG n.1 + -ED2: cf. CRABBED, which appears to be of about the same age.]

    The citations for "Having the bad qualities of a dog" go back to 1307 (where it is spelled "doggid") and "having the character, or some characteristic, of a dog" to 1440 (where it is spelled "doggyd"), and for "Having the persistency or tenacity characteristic of various breeds of dogs" to 1779.

    The verb dog meaning "to follow like a dog; to follow pertinaciously or closely" is said to be from the noun, and is cited back to 1519.

    Those entries, taken together, constitute the claim that the adjective dogged meaning "tenacious or stubborn", and the verb dog meaning "follow closely", are related (at least historically) only by being both derived from the noun dog.

    This makes sense synchronically as well, since the past participle "dogged" should mean "someone or something that is followed pertinaciously" rather than "someone who follows pertinaciously".

  13. Karen said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

    Ah – the dogged criminal is followed by the dogged detective!

  14. Mark Liberman said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

    Karen: Ah – the dogged criminal is followed by the dogged detective!

    Indeed. Or more exactly, the dogged1 criminal is dogged (doggedly) by the dogged2 detective.

  15. Aaron Davies said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

    This all reminds me a little of French, where ordinarily silent things get voiced when metrically required–e.g. "Au Clair de la Lune", where the final 'e' in the last word of every odd line is pronounced; or the various versions of "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman", where all sorts of words ("cause", "une", "raisonne", "comme", "viande", etc.) get the same treatment.

  16. Kenny Easwaran said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

    What about the word "crooked"? I suspect that may have a similar origin, though it's now opaque to most english speakers (including myself until very recently).

  17. dr pepper said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

    That appears to be the same. The old principal crooked(1) his finger at the tardy student. Arthritis had left the old principal's finger crooked(2).

  18. Mark Liberman said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

    Kenny Easwaran: What about the word "crooked"?

    The OED gives the etymology as

    [Partly pa. pple. of CROOK v., partly f. CROOK n. + -ED, as in hunched, etc.: the formation from the n. may even have been the earlier.]

    Note that in this case, the semantics is similar in both derivations: a finger that someone has crooked also has some of the attributes of a crook (the kind that is shaped like a hook, not the kind that President Nixon said he wasn't).

  19. ajay said,

    November 3, 2008 @ 10:11 am

    the past participle "dogged" should mean "someone or something that is followed pertinaciously" rather than "someone who follows pertinaciously".

    It can be both!

    "He was dogged [dogg'd] by rumours of a criminal past" – here the word "hounded" can be substituted;
    "He was dogged [dogg-ed] in his pursuit of the criminal"

  20. Christy Mason said,

    November 3, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

    As far as the liturgical pronunciations go of blessed, beloved, etc., the style guide for lay readers at my protestant denomination gave this nicely practical advice "pick one pronunciation style and be consistent" so in the same service one reader reads "blessED" and another "blest." This makes me smile during the services, but I've never heard anyone complain about it. I ran with "blest" myself.

  21. stripey_cat said,

    November 4, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

    I'd always assumed it was an emphasis thing – certainly when I was reading aloud I'd use the contraction unless it was in a particularly prominent place or a rhetorical pattern that was better for the final syllable. Sung, older settings tend to have the full version, which (or possibly rote learning of spoken verses) is probably why we retain the option.

  22. Claire Bowern said,

    November 4, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

    Some of these, at least in the liturgical setting, might be reinforced because of the way the words are set to music. One that springs to mind is the pronunciation of 'spirit' in Evensong preces and responses ( e.g. …and with thy [spɹit]/[*spɪrɪt]) – here the setting usually calls for a monosyllable (and this pronunciation is what gives us modern English 'sprite'). The same principle applies to blessed, which usually has the two-syllable reading preserved when singing composers before about 1600 (and later if the composer is archaising).

  23. Dennis Brennan said,

    November 7, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

    I've seen "wingèd" (spelled with the diacritic).

  24. November Links « Literal-Minded said,

    November 11, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

    […] wondered why some words retain this -ed instead of reducing it to [d] or [t], and now Mark Liberman explains it. You can find the same basic explanation presented a bit differently in section 6.3.1 (pp. 155-158) […]

RSS feed for comments on this post