or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, May 01, 2006

He Tryeth My Patience

I like reading James Walcott: he's sharp and witty and he has a way with a phrase. But sometimes he really bugs the hell out of me.

I read his blog every week or two, and always go into the archives to make sure I don't miss anything, which is why I didn't catch this, dated April 16th, until today. His whole blog post for that day is an extract from an article he (and I) liked, which he closes by writing this:

I say unto you: Go readeth the whole thingeth.

Honestly: there's just no excuse for this sort of thing. He knows better, and if he doesn't, he damned well ought to. Adding "-eth" to the end of a noun--it's an obsolete verb suffix--is just silly, but he might have been able to get away with it if he had used the suffix correctly with the previous verb. But he didn't.

I wrote about this in some detail a year ago and I'm not going to go over the whole thing again, but in a nutshell, Early Modern English "-eth" is exactly like the modern "-s" in third-person singular English verbs: "he goes", "he goeth"; "he runs", "he runneth". But Walcott is using the second person singular, which takes a different suffix ("-est") in the indicative, and what's more, he's not using the indicative at all, but the imperative, which is to say a command ("Take out the trash!"), which takes no suffix in the singular, either in Early Modern or plain old Modern English.

If he were using the second-person singular indicative and was determined to give his pronouncement that biblical flair, he would write "Thou goest and readest the whole thing." Since he's using the imperative (which doesn't even exist in the third person singular), he has to write, "Go read the whole thing," or, since he seems intent on making a biblical proclamation, "Go thou and read the whole thing" (and then he would have had to use "thee" in the first part of the sentence, which he should have anyway). "Go readeth" is sloppy and pseudo literate and frankly inexcusable, and I'm shocked. I expect better.


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