January 12, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: sneaked or snuck & fraud or defraud

Posted in fraud/defraud, sneaked/snuck at 6:30 am by dlseltzer


A colleague recently  sent me this comic on ‘Deciphering Academese’ that I thought you might enjoy: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=405

Tip 1: Sneaked or snuck

A reader writes:

First of all, thank you for the WLUT,  I love the weekly emails. I typically forward them to a good friend who is notorious for correcting people on their language. We’re both big fans! Anyway, my question for you is (and I’m sorry if you’ve answered this before, but I couldn’t find it on your blog) is what is the appropriate past tense for sneak? I was recently corrected by my aforementioned friend after I used the word “snuck”. He quickly and proudly, told me that “snuck” isn’t a word, and that the correct word is “sneaked.” Despite the fact that the past tenses of peek and leak are peeked and leaked (just to name a few), I can’t help but feel funny when saying “sneaked”. Please confirm!

I hate to let down a reader who is a fan of the WLUT, but I am afraid that this time I have to, but with a caveat. This is the deal: the past tense of sneak follows the same patterns that the reader suggested and is, indeed, ‘sneaked,’ and ‘snuck’ is generally considered non-standard English. However,  there are almost as many people who use ‘snuck’ as there are who use ‘sneaked.’ And moreover, many of those were actually taught in school that ‘snuck’ was the correct past tense of ‘sneak.’  Furthermore, I love ‘snuck.’ It sounds downright ‘sneaky.’ Now, I wouldn’t use it in my formal writing, but why would we ever use the verb, ‘sneak’ in our formal writing anyway? But in conversation, I would not look askance—there is something very descriptive about ‘snuck.’ You know how I often say that language changes and evolves? Well, this is a great example. Snuck is increasingly being considered standard, and you can even find it in some dictionaries! Its usage is so common that I find it hard to believe that it won’t become a reasonable alternative to sneaked. I also would not be surprised if someday it became more common to use ‘snuck’ than it is to use ‘sneaked.’

I know that there are some people who are very conservative about language and grammar and who will be appalled by this post. To them I say, “Get over yourselves already.” Part of what I love about language is its color, and nobody’s going to tell me that ‘sneaked’ is more colorful than ‘snuck.’

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Tip 2: Frauding or defrauding

Speaking about being appalled, I love that language changes, but I am horrified when a supposedly professional writer mistakenly changes language in a supposedly professionally-edited big city newspaper. So you can imagine my reaction the other day, when I opened up the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and saw this headline:

Businessman sentenced for frauding investors

Yikes! Seeing this in the Post-Gazette made me start doubting myself. Could ‘fraud’ ever be used as a verb? I looked in dictionary after dictionary. I looked at website after website. And, nope, my original horror was justified. I even asked an attorney friend if ‘frauding’ could possibly be legal jargon. No.

Okay, this is the lesson Post-Gazette:

Fraud is the noun.

Defraud is the verb.

Pretty simple, right? I’ll say it one more time: Fraud is the noun, defraud is the verb. The headline should have read:

Businessman sentenced for defrauding investors

Where are all the good editors when you need them?


1 Comment »

  1. Liz said,

    Hello, I’m a weekly reader but haven’t contacted you before…wasn’t sure if this is the right place to pose a question. In this example, is the “that” optional, wrong, or correct? “Mr. X said [that] he likes coffee.” This would be for a formal write-up, like meeting minutes.

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