's Blog

The Nuances of Language

Posted by on 08/25/2010 at 04:37 PM


"Writing" Down the House

The English Language is very nuanced. Words can have multiple definitions in different contexts. They can also have multiple connotations, the meaning given to them by individual experience.

One resource I have found that explains these nuances in detail is Bryan Garner's daily "Usage Tip of the Day," published in a daily free subscription by Oxford University Press.

Bryan Garner is the Editor-in-Chief of Black's Law Dictionary and one of the country's most esteemed legal writing experts. Additionally, Mr. Garner is the author of my favorite legal writing grammar manual, The Redbook.


The Redbook


Here is an example of the "Usage Tip of the Day."



Garner's Usage Tip of the Day

pleaded; *pled; *plead (1).

Today: Traditional Form.

Traditionally speaking, "pleaded" is the best past-tense and past-participial form. Commentators on usage have long said so, pouring drops of vitriol onto *"has pled" and *"has plead":

o "'Plead,' sometimes wrongly used as the pret. of 'plead.' The correct form is 'pleaded.'" John F. Genung, Outlines of Rhetoric 324 (1893).

o "Say, 'He pleaded guilty' (not 'pled' or 'plead')." Sherwin Cody, Dictionary of Errors 118 (1905).

o "The past tense is 'pleaded.' The use of 'pled' or 'plead' is colloquial." C.O. Sylvester Mawson, Style-Book for Writers and Editors 178 (1926).

o "'Pleaded' is the approved past tense of 'plead.' Thus: He pleaded (not 'pled' or 'plead') not guilty." Alexander M. Witherspoon, Common Errors in English and How to Avoid Them 135 (1943).

The problem with these strong pronouncements, of course, is that *"pled" and *"plead" have gained some standing in American English, as the Evanses noted in the 1950s (although they mentioned only *"pled"): "In the United States 'pleaded' and 'pled' are both acceptable for the past tense and for the past participle. In Great Britain only the form 'pleaded' is used and 'pled' is considered an Americanism" (Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage at 372).

*Invariably inferior forms.

Next: *"pled" and *"plead" Now.
Quotation of the Day: "Few people are more trying than the word-exhibitionist. One does not pick up a vocabulary to show off but to do honest work with it." Gorham Munson, The Written Word 90 (rev. ed. 1949).