October 18, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: shined or shone & Pittsburghese

Posted in Pittsburghese, shined/shone, the Pittsburgh to be at 6:46 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Shined or shone

I was listening to a podcast the other day, I don’t remember the topic, but the host of the show said something to the effect of, ‘The sun shined the whole day.’ I thought to myself, yikes, that’s not right. Shouldn’t it be ‘the sun shone’? I looked on the wlut blog site and found that this subject has not come up before. And so we have today’s first tip. Is the past tense of shine ‘shined’ or ‘shone’?

I don’t have to tell you the answer, do I? It’s the same one we see over and over again when in comes to grammar. This is it: it depends. Of course, it does. Doesn’t everything?

Based on the variety of opinions on the web, there is a great deal of confusion as to when to use ‘shone’ or ‘shined.’ And some of the reasoning is incredibly convoluted and rests on light and disputes about irregular verbs and the level of activity occurring and discussions about which word is going to last longer and British versus American English. Goodness.

I am going to rely on the Chicago Manual of Style for this. It has a delightful section called, “Good usage versus common usage,” where I found Chicago’s edict on ‘shined’ and ‘shone’:

shine. When this verb is intransitive, it means “to give or make light”; the past tense is shone {the stars shone dimly}. When it is transitive, it means “to cause to shine”; the past tense is shined {the caterer shined the silver}.

 As a quick reminder, transitive verbs take an object and intransitive verbs do not.

So, ‘the sun shone’ but ‘he shined the shoes.’

But hold on. Would you say ‘Mary shone in the swimming meet yesterday,’  or ‘Mary shined in the swimming meet yesterday’? What about ‘Cindy’s eyes shone with excitement,’ or ‘Cindy’s eyes shined with excitement’?

Hmmm. To my ear, ‘shined’ sounds better in those instances although ‘Cindy’s eyes shone’ also sounds okay. And I know journalists use ‘shined’ without an object when writing about sports. Here is a headline I just found:

Demian Maia and Jon Fitch Shined at UFC 153. www.opposingviews.com

I have no idea who those guys are, but I saw that UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship, and it took place in Brazil.

Garner notes that writers often use ‘shined’ when ‘shone’ is the correct word and provides a sports example. He rates it a 2 in his language change index indicating that using shined rather than shone is “largely shunned. The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage.”

I think that’s a little harsh when it comes to the Mary and Cindy examples. I’m more inclined to allow shined to not require an object when it is used in that sense.

The best news, as far as I am concerned, is that I bet ‘shine,’ ‘shone,’  and ‘shined’ are rarely found in formal scientific manuscripts. Whew. We dodged a bullet this time.

Tip 2: Pittsburghese

After our discussion of ‘that’ last week, a reader wrote:

You missed a golden opportunity to talk about n’at!  C’mon, do Pittsburgh proud!

When I wrote back and said that I hadn’t been aware of n’at before googling it in response to his email, the reader wrote back:

 Now you, too, can smile at the “N@” bumper stickers.  I love them.  Not enough to, you know, put one on my car, but they’re great anyway.

Thus, my introduction to ‘n’at. That along with a request from a colleague to write about the problem of people omitting the verb ‘to be’ in their sentences led me to decide that it is a good time to talk again about Pittsburghese, the dialect of Pittsburgh. I remember that when I first came to Pittsburgh, people looked at me with confusion when I would say something about ‘an elastic.’ In Pittsburghese, what I was talking about is something called ‘a gumband.’ I never did switch from the use of elastics, although I sometimes use rubberband for the sake of clarity.

As I said, Pittsburghese is the dialect of Pittsburgh. It has it roots in Scotland and Ireland, but is peculiar to Pittsburgh and its suburbs. (I am using ‘peculiar’ here with its meaning of belonging to.) It involves a peculiar language, indeed (here, I am using ‘peculiar’ to mean strange) with words like nebby (nosy) and redd up (clean) and yinz (you all). The accent is distinctive, but I won’t attempt to recreate it here.

So why did the writer say I missed a golden opportunity when talking about ‘that’?

N’at is a nonspecific qualifier that means slightly different things in different contexts with a general sense of etcetera, and all, or and so forth. It is suspected that it comes from a mashing of ‘and that’ (therefore, the relevance).

I am going to the grocery store to buy, eggs, juice, and bread n’at.

( I am going to the grocery store to buy, eggs, juice, and bread and other stuff.)

This room n’at need repairs.

(This room and some other rooms need repairs.)

So what’s the issue with the verb ‘to be’? Well, in Pittsburghese, there is no issue, because there is no ‘to be.’ I’m exaggerating—‘to be’ still exists; it’s just not used.

In Pittsburghese, the car needs washed, and this room n’at need repaired.

In Pittsburghese, the organ needs played, and the weeds need pulled.

I’ve written about Pittsburghese twice before and came to different conclusions. The first time, I expressed my horror and screamed, “Don’t do it”! The second time, I was more mellow about the regional dialect aspect and just admonished you not to use any form or term of Pittsburghese in your formal writing. But you know—I do hate it. How’s this? It is okay to use it in informal conversation, when you are conscious that you are doing it for fun, but please don’t use it in any academic conversation or writing.

I know it’s a Burgh thing, but there are limits. Honestly, it’s the verb ‘to be’ far more than any vocabulary which I actually find interesting. The high school English teacher in me shudders at what I see as bad grammar. And when ‘to be’ is omitted in a local newspaper article, I want to tear out my hair! Where are the editors?

Okay, I am calming down now. Do have a lovely day.



  1. Frankie said,

    I’m new to this great blog and would like to know where I can ask questions – in the reply box, or elsewhere?
    I’m from Scotland and was interested to learn about the roots of Pittsburghese. I’m quite at home with “the car needs washed” (in some parts of England folk would say, “the car needs (or wants) washing”), but don’t think I would be tempted to use that form in scientific writing.

    • dlseltzer said,

      In this box is fine or you can email me directly (seltzerdl@upmc.edu).

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