Monday, July 18, 2016

Led Astray

In three different media I have recently encountered sentences confusing the past tense verb "led" with the noun "lead."  Since publishing an outraged blog on "lead" and "led" almost seven years ago in this space, and another earlier this year, I have seen this deplorable solecism multiply in frequency.  Sad to say, my railing has seemed to be counterproductive.

Nonetheless, I think it is incumbent upon me to repeat the earlier explanations in the hope that some wayward copy editor (if any such still exist) may read it and see the light. Herewith are my previous posts from December 21, 2009, and March 14, 2016.  

From December 21, 2009:

In high dudgeon, a frequenter of this blog has called outraged attention to a news account on the Internet in which a suspect “confessed and then lead police to the crime scene.”  Said frequenter’s ire can be easily discerned in the fulmination directed at the news outlet: “I don’t know who wrote this article – no ‘credit’ is given – but does your Web site have a proofreader? And does that person read and write English?! The past tense of 'to lead' is LED, not LEAD [yes, it’s pronounced the same way – in SOME cases – but the latter pronunciation is a base metal and not a verb]. Basic English, basic proofreading, basic writing.”

One can hardly improve upon this diatribe, except to point out that lead even when pronounced led can also be a verb, meaning to add the metal lead to something, e.g. “to lead gasoline,” “to lead windows,” or “to lead the seat of your pants.”

One can’t avoid some sympathy for those who misuse lead. English being what it is, there’s bound to be confusion between the past tense of lead, which is led, and the past tense of read, which is read(pronounced red, but spelled read). And I hate to even contemplate plead, whose past tense can be pleaded, pled, or plead (pronounced pled). 

The name of the heavy-metal band Led Zeppelin is said to have originated when Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, predicted the new group would go over "like a lead balloon.” Bassist and keyboardist John Entwistle thought it would be "more like a lead zeppelin.” Undaunted, the new band adopted that name, changing the spelling to led in order to avoid mispronunciation.

Making no commitment as to how the following rhyming words should be pronounced, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou offers this ambiguous triplet about someone who seems either to have stolen a quantity of metal or starred in a play.
       In all the papers that I read,
       How eloquently your case you plead:
       That you were right to take the lead.

From March 14, 2016:

In at least three or four places during the last month I have seen sentences that use the verb lead as if it were in the past tense, e.g.: What has lead to this sad state of affairs?

The verb lead, pronounced LEED, is in the present tense. Owing to some arcane philological shenanigans by the Anglo-Saxons, who adopted a few Germanic verb forms, the past tense of lead is irregular, and rather than leaded, it is led, pronounced LED.

The reason that lead is often used for and pronounced like led is twofold. First, there is a noun, lead, meaning a metal, that is spelled in the same way as the verb that is pronounced LEED, but is pronounced LED. Second, the verb lead is understandably confused with the verb read, whose irregular past tense is spelled the same, read, but is pronounced RED.

I do hope that you have now read enough to understand what has led to this confusion.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is always confused, but that is because of the gargantuan swigs of Chardonnay with which he surreptitiously spices up his dreary workdays.

            The books I like to read
            Are ones I’ve never read,
            Until my eyes are red,          
            Though that is sure to lead,
            As it has always led,
            To eyes that feel like lead.    

Monday, July 11, 2016

Drop That Dime!

A vintage Hollywood crime thriller that I was avidly watching not long ago contained this dialogue: “She dropped a dime on him, and now he wants revenge.” To “drop a dime” is not a phrase that I come across every day, and I was a little uncertain of its meaning. 

According to Eric Partridge’s New Dictionary of Slang” it refers primarily to the act of making a phone call—dating from the pre-cellular 1950s, when pay phones required the deposit of ten cents to make a connection.

But why would a fellow want "revenge" just because someone telephoned him?  

Originally, dropping a dime on someone simply meant to call them on the phone.  But during the late 1950s or early 1960s, a writer of hard-boiled detective stories—Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, or Mickey Spillane perhaps; no one seems to know who or just when—first used the phrase “drop a dime on” to mean "call the police to inform on a wrong-doer." So now it primarily means to "act as an informer, or to snitch."

Sports announcers have adopted the phrase to mean an “assist” in basketball, derived from the connotation that someone who snitches on a criminal is “assisting” the police.

Someone ought to drop a dime on the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, but it’s probably too late for that to do any good.

                        A gal who was quite a rip-snorter
                        Told the guy who had asked to escort her,
                                    “You can have a good time
                                    For only a dime,
                        But just think what you’d get for a quarter.”