Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trouble in Paradise

Gretchen's post, "I Need A Little Backup Here," prompted me to share this story of spousal conflict.

It started after Matt put the kids to bed last night while I made a mama-time trip to TJ Maxx and SuperTarget. I know, we take our thrills where we can. At TJ's I had the satisfaction of finding and carrying away the Best Thing There. It is a Velvet brand tie-front cardigan/shrug thing. Kind of a ballerina sweater, only in black jersey knit. You know, where it only covers your rib cage and makes a big tie in the front? And it was $20 on clearance. I love that brand, and I never see it at TJ's. And on clearance! What is the matter with you people who live around here? So I came home feeling that I had slain the buffalo in the primeval hunt.

When I got in, Matt said, "Uh oh, Hank has finally figured out that he can get out of bed once we put him down. At ten o'clock, I was at my desk and I heard his little footsteps. He said, 'I sneaked downstairs!' He was very proud of himself."

I said, "Well, I'm just happy that he said 'sneaked' instead of 'snuck!'"

Oh Reader, as soon as the words had left my mouth, I knew that this was the equivalent of tossing a bucket of tasty chum into a shark tank. Not that Matt is a shark, but he strikes like a shark, the most loving and affable shark you could meet.

He said, "Hey, wait a minute. What's wrong with 'snuck'? I say 'snuck.'" I said, "It's wrong. It's not the past tense of 'sneak.' Or it's not WRONG, it's nonstandard." His eyes narrowed. Now I was in it. He is like Mark Twain crossed with a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out anything hypercorrect or high-falutin'. So, a shark, Mark Twain, and a bloodhound, got it?

He said, "You set up Rock Band while I check on the status of 'snuck.' Then he strode towards the office, and I knew that he was going straight to that godawful It's the dictionary he uses because it has a website. I knew that it would be some liberal descriptionist thing that would uphold his defense of snuck. So I boogied into the book room and quickly scanned the shelves for my Bryan Garner Dictionary of Modern American Usage. We met in the office.

He looked triumphant as he gestured to this definition. He read aloud:
"From its earliest appearance in print in the late 19th century as a dialectal and probably uneducated form, the past and past participle snuck has risen to the status of standard and to approximate equality with sneaked. It is most common in the United States and Canada but has also been spotted in British and Australian English."
"Status of standard," he trumpeted. I was ready. I said, "First of all, that is not a prescriptive usage guide, and second, that is total bullshit." (Okay, not a strong rebuttal but I was so irritated.) His eyebrows went up. "'Total bullshit,' that's what you have to say?" So I brandished my Garner:
"Snuck is a nonstandard past tense and past participle of sneak common in American dialectical and informal speech and writing. The standard past form is sneaked."
"See?" I said. "It does not say you are a bad person for saying snuck. It says that it is nonstandard, which is all I am saying, and that if you use snuck you should do so advisedly, ESPECIALLY in writing." Reader, I know you are thinking that this should have put the question to rest. It did not. We embarked on a further exploration of the definition of "standard" as it pertains to spoken and written communication. Here are the highlights:

  • He accused me of being no different from an 1890's schoolmarm scolding the young folks for newfangled expressions like okay. I said that was a ridiculous comparison, and also that okay is merely informal, not a non-word like snuck.

  • I asked him if he would mark snuck on his students' papers if he taught college composition. He said he would not. And I accused him of educational malpractice.

  • We discussed the place on the nonstandard/standard continuum of the expression, "Shorties be sippin' like it's dey birfday."

  • I said, "You're just trying to find some way that I'm being a snob!" He insisted that it's just fine with him if I'm a snob but that snuck is most definitely a word and also I am a snob.

  • We brought up drug as a nonstandard past form of drag. I said drug and snuck were equivalently wrong in my view, while he thought snuck is far more valid and drug is totally redneck. Interestingly, Garner calls drug a specifically Southern form.

  • Dove as a nonstandard past form of dive was also brought up. I suddenly realized that I grew up saying dove, like "I dove in headfirst." I consulted Garner on this, and he only says, "Although dove is fairly common in AmE [American English], dived is the predominant form--and the preferable one." Nowhere in that entry does he use the language of correct/incorrect or standard/nonstandard. Hmm. He doesn't mark that as Southern dialect, but I think it is.

  • Matt said that we basically disagree on exactly how nonstandard snuck is. I think it's all the way nonstandard, and he thinks it's "knocking on standard's door." Marital concord was restored.

  • We played some Rock Band. I realized that I still know every word to the 1993 Belly hit, "Feed the Tree."
So that was the hot Friday night action at our place. Men, I swear. How can he argue with me when I'm making so much sense?!? Totally infuriating.

Please try not to have too much fun tonight, y'all.


delaine said...

Bec, I TOTALLY agree with you on the snuck/sneaked issue ! Camp Papa and I were discussing it a couple of days ago and came to no resolution. I might say I took your position. Anyhoo, seems like it was another exciting night at the homeplace. Keeping fighting the good fight.

gretchen said...

Y'all are hysterical. I'm lucky that in my house it's just a given that I am the authority on all things grammar and usage. Not that I'm always right (that dove/dived thing...), but Jimmy is just simply never right, so I seem always right by comparison. I'm afraid that Jimmy's blue-collar Brooklyn Italian family says things like "I don't got none." Yikes.

Jane said...

Somehow they both manage to sound wrong to me. I just say "crept."

Elisa, The Unlikely Housewife said...

"knocking on standard's door"??? Men are hilarious when they are desperate. Will they ever learn that we are smarter and anyway always right? geez.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Becky, you know I love you like a sister, right? It's totally true. But I have to say that your persistence at citing Garner maddens me, particularly on this one.

My Chicago suburban childhood was filled with proper spelling and proper grammar, and "snuck" was the word of choice. "Sneaked" sounds like something Junie B. Jones or Ramona Quimby would say.

Saying "drug" instead of "dragged," on the other hand, is indeed redneckese.

Glad you had fun playing Rock Band. Wish I could have snuck in to watch you.


Hootie said...

Elisa: assume that you are smarter than Matt at your peril. NO ONE is smarter than Matt. That is why Becky married him. One could also argue that this is why he married Becky.

David said...

LOL: this whole thing just came up with us the other day. I am of the "sneaked" camp, which is probably no surprise to you. But I'm honestly okay with people who say "snuck"; I just let it go, mentally noting the non-standard-ness of it all but not saying a word...

The way it came up for me, however, was a "snuck" person's pointing out that I was wrong because I said "sneaked." And while I can countenance "snuck," I can't countenance being called out for saying "sneaked." WTF? And game on...

It was a bit of a shitstorm. I won. Moving on. :)

Amy said...

First, you know how our uncle John begins EVERY story with "I got up this morning at about 4:30 and made a pot of coffee"? I think you could begin every story with "I went to TJ Maxx and Super Target."

Second, Miss Smartypants, is it "spat" or "spitted", then?

I confess that I say "snuck", and that "sneaked" sounds awkward to me. So I may have to declare myself a member of Team Matt and rebuke you for your schoolmarmish ways.

I died laughing at the "shorties be sippin'" thing. I bet y'all are the only people EVER to include both that line and the Dictionary of American Usage in one conversation. Nice work!

Elle said...

I love that you relate this tale of high spousal tension with hilarity and love and without slagging on your man. Important. Because Becky, I will tell you, yesterday I was in a recreational-shopping facility & have quite had my fill of fishwives and the henpecked douches that married them, so I love knowing that other couples can just, yk, scrimmage when called for. Seriously.

Because English is not exactly my first language, but also neither is French, and because for 6 long years in university my dominant language was Italian, no one tries to mix it up with me about rules of language, because I always look stricken & say, "Were you able to understand what I was expressing? Or not?" Plus, any conflict only ever comes down to how English is entirely ungoverned and as such, it is impossible to hew to a standard, as you well illustrate here.

I do get called a lot on written English, which I find exasperating, as it has been my primary literature forever & my fingers are fluent. (Though the colloquial perversity of the intersphere is bending it over every day.) Just the other day, it was "friends' divorcing," which could not be parsed by a good friend, who then did not have familiarity with the function of a gerund. When I explained it, it was all-new to him. The whole time, I was like, This is the person who challenged my English usage? As if. Cheers!

clear screen said...

I grew up saying "dove" too and had no idea that it was an American (perhaps non-standard) thing! But, don't listen to me . . . in really vulnerable (maybe tipsy?) moments I have a sometimes irrepressible urge to say "had boughten." As in, "Oh no, I had boughten the mushrooms before I decided not to make mushroom pie." Sad but true.

Veronica said...

Hootie, I LOVE your comment--that's what makes this whole post brilliant, in my opinion!

I'm with you on "sneaked," Beck, but I must admit that "snuck" irritates me a whole lot less than "alright." When I read a student paper with that one (i.e. every day of my life), my heart races with frustration.

Also, I feel like there could be a whole 'nother post about the standardization of non-standard spellings and verb forms by their inclusion in dictionaries that seek to explain their non-standardness.

Becky said...

Whoo, I love this. First, I love that this situation is something that could elicit one of us, like David, to say "Game on!" and call it a shitstorm. David, I pity the fool who corrected your "sneaked"!

And yes, I guess maybe there are just snuck people and sneaked people. And they can get along. Like in my mixed marriage. But Forrest and Amy, if you throw your support to Team Matt, it may radically destabilize things around here.

Forrest, that link you posted before on "gantlet," here, really is a good comment on what gets taken for standard:

Maybe "sneaked" is on its way to becoming a shibboleth like gantlet.

Elle, I didn't realize you were so polyglottish! I need to get your whole history. And yes, the Mister and I love to spar on these matters. I think it spices things up, you know? Also, you're right, that whole possessive gerund thing is a dying art.

Keep on snuckin'.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Your post and the comments were my read aloud contribution to this morning's pancake breakfast.


You have the most fun marriage ever.
I am proud to be joined by Amy on Team Matt. The man is a class act, especially with the "knocking on standard's door" conciliatory statement.

And David's comment? A stellar example of why I love your blog, your commenters, and, in a larger context, smart people who love esoteric grammar stuff whilst using funny terms like "shitstorm."

melondonkey said...

when using it as a phrasal verb with 'up', i believe 'snuck' is preferable--especially in the second person.

that's all i'm sayin'

missynall said...

Wow and to think we fight about who's turn it is to bring the trash out. :) I guess we could turn that into the brung/brought level? Naw! We'll just stick to the whole "you never...." argument. Works for us and make-up sex is oh so much more comfortable without the dictionaries spread all over the bed!

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Girlfriend, you would be a formidable Scrabble player.

Now, I'm not siding with Matt here on snuck . . . BUT Bryan Garner is like a literary Rush Limbaugh. I took a class from him in law school and, well, let's say he's quite pleased with himself.

Becky said...

Forrest! I'm so happy I got to be part of the pancakes!

Melon, I tend to agree on the "snuck up," maybe because if you're describing an act of sneaking up on someone or something, it might add flavor to your narration to really roll out the informal language, yes?

Lawyer Mom, I am not pleased to hear this about Garner. Rush, really??

Missy, I am dying at your comment. That is all I will say.

Bren said...

It took me a while to figure out which I would use (it's snuck. Or maybe snuck'd). And it seems to me that simply using the word begs for the "snuck" form, as in "we snuck in through the hole in the fence". Otherwise, aren't you drinking yoo-hoo with your pinky sticking out?

Amy said...

Bren--yes! You eloquently expressed what I could not. I agree! :)

Becky said...

Nooo! Okay, maybe. If you sneaked through the fence to the ol' swimmin' hole, then you snuck. But if you sneaked somewhere more, um, dignified (?) then you need not feel like you're putting on airs if you say that you sneaked.

Becky said...

PS, I mean, I think the key is code switching: knowing what register you mean to use and using the words that are right for it.

When Matt and I were trying to use "drug" instead of dragged in sentences, we automatically started imitating this King of Rednecks we overheard on Signal Mountain one time. He was buying beer at nine in the morning--hair of the dog--and complaining in this unsurpassed mountain nasal accent, "I'm sick 'cuz I been out with the damn wimmin!"

Bren said...

Ah, see, if you catch me someplace dignified, you can assume I snuck in. And I definitely DOVE into the buffet when I got there.

Amy said...

I felt compelled to read all the comments before I sneaked in one of my own... all y'all, you are hilarious!! Bren got the biggest guffaw with her "Drinkin Yoohoo" comment, but whooo, it's some fun over here at SubMat!!

And then I had to go search my own blog to discover that I have "snuck" twice. And sneaked not at all. Oh, the shame. Although, I was sneaking out, and off... pretty sneakily. Does that render it near-standard, by the terms set out herein?

And Gretchen, I'm the recognized authority round these parts. Husband, far brighter than I, can't reliably rid himself of his native "should've went," so I reign unchallenged.

Michele Renee said...

I say Matt has a good ear if he was relaying Hank's words verbatim. I give him an A for the audio.
P.S. I asked my kids to use the word sneak in the past tense in a sentence and they said sneaked. I was thrilled but then they rethought and changed it to snuck. English is just the darndest language!

A Day That is Dessert said...

I have to admit I didn't have a clue about 'snuck' v 'sneaked' ! I'll watch my grammar if we meet in person :) Funny tale.

poz said...

I'm in the snuck camp, though I wouldn't frown at sneaked. I think the assonance of "snuck up" is just too good to ignore. It's poetry, you see. You shall not deny it.

I'm left stuttering at the past tense of "plead". (And do NOT start me on the proper location of the quotation mark and period. Wars have been fought over less.) The proper form is "pleaded", but I want to say "pled" (though I'm not sure if I would spell it "plead" and just pronounce it pled.)

And how about our old friend "route"? For me, this word changes pronunciation depending on what part of speech it is. As a proper or general noun, it's "root". As a verb, though, it's "rout". What's up with that?

Amy Whitley said...

Sounds like fun had by all. ;) We have very similar arguments around here, which I, the grammar nazi, always win (in my head). My husband never, ever concedes, however.

Aviva said...

I *love* that you bicker about proper grammar!! I have to admit that growing up in the Chicago area, I believed until reading this post that "dove" was the correct past-tense of dive. Who knew?

My husband and I will debate definitions and connotations of various words, but we rely on an unabridged Oxford dictionary to settle our disagreements!

Having lived in West Virginia for four years, I feel like I grok redneck-ese. My personal pet peeve there was "brang" as the past tense of brought. Makes me cringe just typing it here! :-)