Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well-grounded verbs

Michael B found something today in the MSN money blog entry that discusses the latest from Starbucks:

Starbucks needs to do everything it can to improve its image as a purveyor of premium coffee. The move towards pre-grinded coffee beans and automatic espresso makers left it vulnerable.
This is a little surprising. Historically, it's not unusual for irregular/strong verbs to move toward using the regular/weak pattern, which consists of whacking a -d/-ed ending onto the stem. (And no sound change.) We use this pattern in new verbs pretty much without exception. And we see it when a traditionally irregular verb is used in a new way that is sufficiently different to cause users to "forget" that it has an existing irregular past tense. (Examples frequently cited, including by me, are to fly out; to grandstand.) You can sense when verbs are teetering between irregular and regular, as I've noted before: what's the past of to troubleshoot? What about of to cheerlead?

What's surprising about grinded here is that the usual past tense -- ground -- is in constant use even in this context. People talk about fresh-ground coffee and about dumping the grounds. But perhaps that pre- threw off the writer; if we give him the benefit of the doubt here, he's analyzing to pre-grind as a new verb (to pregrind, let's say), and new verbs always take -d/-ed.

It's a mistake, from a purely editing perspective, but it's one that follows a rigid pattern, so to speak. If a body is going to get the past tense of to grind wrong, odds are that they'll get it wrong in exactly this way.

So, Google. The search grinded +coffee yields about 6 cups about 45,000 hits, including fresh grinded coffee and fine grinded and hand grinded and just plain grinded. (In fairness, a few of these are not native speakers, but a lot of them are.)

Grinded still sounds odd to me, but to quite a few people, apparently it does not. (Is it more prevalent in writing than in speech? That's a question that we here are not equipped to research, alas.) Let's check back in 20 years, see how things are developing.

Update (5 June 2008): Found this in a blog today: "While there was some discussion of how to fix the problems, it got overwhelmed by grinded axes swinging wildly against certain personalities in Microsoft India leadership."


markowe said...

Interesting. As you say, this is not unusual - the move toward the regular (nor is the move toward irregular, ha - remember that Chomsky quote?) but I wonder why?

I have a strange gut feeling it displays some form of insecurity about the use of an irregular form. It's not that the writer didn't KNOW "ground" was correct, it's more like he doesn't feel sure, so he puts "grinded" figuring he's on safer ground. Erm, pardon the pun.

Anonymous said...

As an editor, I have this to say: I agree that it sounds incorrect. It seems to me that the more proper conjugation of that should be ground not grinded. As far as it being a 'new verb', I don't know that I would see it as that.

As a purveyor of coffee, I've always heard the term pre-ground and all other references to what happens to the beans when you put them in the grinder as being ground afterwards. I think the pre- just indicates the idea of 'before you purchase it'.

WordzGuy said...

@ jb dryden --

No question that grinded is incorrect per the current state of the language. The question is why people would start writing grinded instead of ground; part of the point here is that they do indeed say (well, write) this. (People have done so at least 46,000 times, per Google.) It's a mistake, but it's a mistake that follows a highly predictable pattern, moreover one that has been applied to many verbs in the history of English and that over time significantly reduced the number of irregular verbs in the language. As I muse at the end, is the verb to grind in a state of transition w/r/t its past tense?

Andy Hollandbeck said...

I wonder whether it's simply a matter of people not understanding homographs. I wouldn't be surprised to discover an (ignorant) adult looking for the fresh tree coffee or fresh vine coffee amongst all the fresh ground coffee. If people didn't understand that "ground" also means "put through a grinder," then "grinded" makes perfect sense.

Granted, an editor shouldn't let this through. But we all have our little blind spots.

goofy said...

AIUI the reason that "fly out", "grandstand", "troubleshoot" are regular verbs is because they are zero-derived from nouns. But "pre-grind" isn't derived from a noun so we would expect to find "pre-ground" for the past participle.

Nelson said...

It immediately reminded me of "mouses" but I see you have already covered that in an earlier post.

Stewart said...

I just want to note that this post is thrown a big wobbly by the fact that "grinded" appears to have been in common usage before the 1900s, as a quick check in the OED will show you.