Sunday, February 25, 2024

Language sneaks up on you

Making my way through the thousand pages of The New Roman Empire: A History of Byzantium by Anthony Kaldellis, professor of classics at the University of Chicago, and published by the Oxford University Press, I came up short against a word: snuck

Some of you, I suspect, will be as horrified by this as by the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. But you, like the House of Palaiologos, will be on the wrong side of history. 

Snuck, a variant of sneaked, lived for decades in the United States as a regional colloquialism. But in the twentieth century, and particularly in the current one, it picked up speed. 

A usage note in The American Heritage Dictionary says that 75% of its usage panel found snuck acceptable in 2008. 

Merriam-Webster notes that snuck "has risen to the status of standard and to approximate equality with sneaked." 

And Bryan Garner, in the fifth edition of Garner's Modern English Usage, writes that "with startling alacrity, it has become a casualism," perhaps because of "phonemic appeal." He continues: "In any event, the numbers don't lie: in AmE, snuck has become strongly predominant; in BrE, it has become about equal in frequency to sneaked." It crops up in legal opinions, and "the last year in which sneaked appeared more often in print than snuck was 2009."

Resistance remains. I don't care for snuck and do not recall ever having used it in speech or text. But resistance in language is usually futile. 

That's it. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.