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Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2003 / 6 Teves, 5764

Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, Tenth Edition

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Consumer Reports

The past tense of "plead''; Is "old adage'' redundant?; Where did "lounge lizard'' come from? | Dear Editor:

Lately I've noticed that different broadcasters use different words for the past tense of "plead.'' For example, one newscaster will say "the defendant pleaded guilty'' but someone else will say "the defendant pled guilty.'' Which is correct, "'pleaded'' or "pled''? — R.B., Miami, Fla.

Dear R.B.:

Both "pleaded'' and "pled'' (sometimes spelled "plead'') are correct past tense forms of "plead.'' They are also both used as the past participle of "plead.''

"Plead'' belongs to the same class of verbs as "bleed,'' "speed,'' "read,'' and "feed.'' As with those verbs, the past and past participle of "plead'' are formed irregularly with a short vowel sound "e'' replacing the long vowel sound "e'' of the present tense "plead.'' "Pled'' parallels the past and past participles "bled,'' "led,'' "sped,'' "read,'' and "fed.''

Competing with the short-vowel form "pled'' from the beginning however, was the regular form "plead.'' "Pleaded'' eventually predominated in mainstream British English, while "pled'' retreated into dialect and especially Scottish dialect use. Through Scottish immigration or some other means, "pled'' reached America.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many American language commentators attacked "pled,'' perhaps because it was not in good British use. "Pled'' steadily gained respectability, however, and today "pled'' and "pleaded'' are equally acceptable in American English.

Dear Editor: Since almost all definitions of the word "adage'' define it as an old saying, why do people invariably preface "adage'' with "old''? If "adage'' means "old saying,'' isn't "old adage'' redundant? — R.B., Lebanon, Pa.

Dear R.B.:

Many language commentators agree with you that "old adage'' is redundant. The use of "old'' with "adage,'' however, is not a recent phenomenon. "Old'' has gone with "adage'' since the word first came into English. The earliest recorded use of "adage,'' in Edward Hall's Chronicle from 1548, includes "old'': "He forgat the olde adage, saynge in tyme of peace provyde for warre.'' In 1594, Thomas Nashe wrote "`Much company, much knavery' - as true as that old adage 'Much courtesy, much subtlety.'' Force of habit seems to keep "old'' and "adage'' linked.

There is also considerable evidence that people use "adage'' for sayings that are not very old at all. This is a fairly recent shift in usage that dates to the early part of the 20th century. Consider, for example, the following tongue-in-cheek passage from a 1950 issue of Publishers Weekly: "Some people forget the lovely adage that people who live in glass houses should undress in the dark.'' This shift is reflected in some dictionary definitions where "old saying'' is reduced to "saying.'' Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "adage'' as a "saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation.''

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Dear Editor:

I think your column is great and look forward to reading it. I have a question: where did "lounge lizard'' come from? — M.L., Edinburgh, Texas

Dear M.L.:

Since its first appearance as American slang in 1917, "lounge lizard'' has surprisingly shown up in nearly every decade. A lounge lizard is typically depicted as a well-dressed man who frequents the establishments in which the rich gather with the intention of seducing a wealthy woman with his flattery and deceptive charm. The term presumably owes something to the cold and insinuating quality of reptiles. It has also been suggested that the name derives in part from the "lizards,'' that is, shoes made from crocodile or snakeskin, that were sometimes sported by such men, but there is no solid evidence of this.

Eventually, the lounge lizard as social parasite decided to play chameleon and take on many appearances. "Lounge lizard'' then became a generalized term applying to any frequenter of nightclubs. In the 1980s, it had a brief stint as a descriptor of a young person whose life revolved around the alternative, punk nightclub scene.

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12/15/03: "Ostracize" and "oyster''?; Where does the "mentor'' come from?; "jeopard''
12/02/03: "Karats'' and "carats'' — meaning of and difference between; why apostrophe in "'cello''?; "hell-bent for leather''
11/18/03: "Hoosegow,''; why the little finger is called the "`pinkie''; difference between "lady'' and "dame''
11/13/03: 'Take it on the lam'; 'decorum'; 'you look like the wreck of the Hesperus'
11/03/03: Origin of "hypnosis"/"hypnotism"; "all right" or "alright"; emote
10/28/03: "Blue plate special"; how to use "hoi polloi''; "Peck's Bad Boy''
10/20/03: Who was the person the artist who first used "silhouette" as an art form?; why are they called migraine headaches?; origin of "keep one's shirt on"
10/13/03: "Grey'' in "greyhound'' has nothing to do with the color?; "at loggerheads''
09/29/03: Where does the word "karaoke" comes from?; people or persons?; "synecdoche"
09/23/03: Using "eke'' correctly; fedora; why do we call an especially flattering biography a "hagiography''?
09/10/03: Why do we call a zero score in tennis "love''?; "biannual'' or "semiannual''?; Is there any difference between "further'' and "farther''?; dilemma of using "dilemma''
09/02/03: "Out loud'' rather than "aloud''; "pushing the envelope''; "without rhyme or reason''
08/25/03: "Cheesy''; "hold a candle''
08/11/03: "Halcyon days''; Why isn't "sacrilegious'' spelled "sacreligious''?; "red light'' and "green light'' as expression — which came first, the inaction or the signals?
08/04/03: "Votive'' candles; "cosmeticizing"; "potluck''
07/28/03: Why ‘debt’ has a ‘b’ in it; "south moon under''; why "Rx'' is used for prescriptions
07/21/03: "Romance" & "Rome"?; punching & clocks; "conversate"
07/14/03: "Lukewarm''; Where did we get the word "wig'' for a fake head of hair?
07/09/03: Why doesn't "Arkansas'' rhyme with "Kansas''? ; "Catawampus"; "Jimmie Higgins work"
06/30/03: "Foozle"; author who wrote an entire novel without using a certain letter of the alphabet?; "kith and kin"
06/23/03: "On the fritz"; "knuckle down''
06/17/03: How did "lazy Susan'' come to be used for the rotating tray?; woolgathering'' as synonym for "idle daydreaming''; "in harm's way''
06/09/03: "Clotheshorse"; a god named "Ammonia"?
05/29/03: With kid gloves; "receipt'' = "recipe''?; from soup to nuts

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