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That tomato did WHAT?!!! September 15, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben got an e-mail this morning from Territorial Seed Company (www.territorialseed.com) announcing the winners of its Great Northwest Tomato Taste-Off. Ha, this will be a fun way to start the day, I thought. I opened the e-mail to read the following: “Competition was fierce, but one tomato outshined all the others.”

Say what?! Whatever happened to “outshone”?!! Last time I looked, the past tense of shine was shone, with one exception: When someone shines (polishes) shoes, in which case, the shoes were shined. But that’s because “shine” in the case of shoe polishing is slang; the shoes shine, but no one can really “shine” them; rather, by polishing them, they cause the shoes to shine. The same is true if you say that you shine silver, brass or another metal rather than polishing it.

For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to assume that the winning tomato wasn’t selected because its shoe- or metal-shining abilities were greater than those of its competition, but rather because it tasted better. It outshone its rivals in the matter of flavor. (Mind you, it wouldn’t surprise our friend Ben to discover that someone, somewhere, has tried to shine shoes with tomatoes, but that’s a different matter.)

The abrupt departure of what are called irregular past tenses—those that aren’t formed by adding “-ed” to the end of present-tense verbs—from our language makes our friend Ben sad. I’m stunned every time I read or hear “kneeled” used as the past tense of “kneel” rather than “knelt.” No doubt “weeped” is being used somewhere instead of “wept,” “sleeped” has displaced “slept,” and “dreamt” has been consigned to Shakespearian archives. English is such an inherently rich and diverse language, I hate to see it flattened out.

But I know you’re actually more interested in which tomato won the competition than in my rantings about the decline of the English language, however, so here’s the spoiler: ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’ (and yes, that really is the name of a tomato) narrowly edged out—I mean, outshined—the beloved ‘Red Brandywine’ (#2) and ‘Early Girl’ (#3) to take the title.



1. pixilated2 - September 15, 2011

About the tomatoes? Not really. I too miss the irregular verbs in our language. I once had a professor tell me that “English is a language that is always growing and changing.” I suppose he is correct, after all we certainly no longer write or speak in the Old English style. And yet, like yourself, I too get irritated with those who overregulate their usage of -ed. The one that sends me over the edge is ‘sneeked,’ I much prefer snuck. Ah well…
~ Lynda

Sneeked?! Eek! My etymology professor always used to tell us that he was convinced that language was rapidly heading for the monosyllabic grunt. And that was before Tweeting and texting! Certainly pronunciation has changed during my own lifetime, something that always stuns me. When I was growing up, “adult” was universally pronounced “ah-DULT,” and now it’s (almost) universally pronounced “addled.” Ouch.

pixilated2 - September 15, 2011

Which reminds me! Have you tried looking up some of these spellings on the internet? It is getting harder and harder to find their correct usage and spelling. In some cases the correct spelling is not even referenced as “arcane” usage, but simply listed as incorrect. I hate that in my own lifetime I use my own language ‘incorrectly.’ I once mentored a new teacher who confessed to me that she “… had to write down many of the words I used, then later go look them up, to understand what I had told her in conversation”. Is it any wonder that our language is falling pellmell down the rabbit hole?
Sorry. This really got me going.

Sigh. It gets me going, too, Lynda! And no, while I certainly do look up words on the internet if I’m unsure of their meaning, I haven’t as it happened checked on any of these. But I do encounter people all the time who think I actually make up the words I use! (Not that I’m above coining a neologism, but I try to refrain from doing so more than once every couple of years…)

2. mr_subjunctive - September 15, 2011

My understanding is that it’s “shined” if there’s a direct object and “shone” if there isn’t. So I shined the shoes, after which the shoes shone. Which means the tomato may have shone, but it still outshined the others.

See (1) and (2).

Gads, Mr. S., now you’ve done it! No one has ever before driven me to pull my 1814 copy of Johnson’s Dictionary off the shelf. But I have never actually heard or read anyone use “outshined” before. Nor did I find it in Johnson, but I did find the following: “To SHINE. v. n. preterite I shone, I have shone; fometimes [sic] I shined, I have shined.” Skipping ahead a century or so, I hauled down my 1977 copy of the OED and blinded myself trying to apply my trusty magnifying glass to the seemingly endless discussion of shine. The OED did list shone categorically as the past tense and past participle of the verb shine, and had outshone but not outshined. However, as with Johnson, it appears that “shined” was also in relatively common use as a dialectical variant until around 1800. (At which time, the pedants took it upon themselves to try to standardize English spelling by creating etymologies for words in common usage, many of which later turned out to be spurious, resulting in the insertion of “l” in words like calf and palm that never should have had them, for example. But I digress.) Though almost blind at this point, I attempted without success to find my own etymological dictionary, so I lurched further forward in time to my 2002 Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which informs us on its cover that it’s “The Official Dictionary of the Associated Press.” (Editorial commentary suppressed in this case.) For outshine, it gives “vt. –shone or –shined,” and for shine itself, “vi. shone or (& for vt. 2 only) shined,” vt. 2 being “to make shiny or bright by polishing.” All of which leads me to conclude that shined always had its constituency, even when not referring to polishing, and though shone (and outshone) is preferred except in that sense, those who choose to use shined and outshined in the broader sense have historical precedent.

mr_subjunctive - September 15, 2011

But I have never actually heard or read anyone use “outshined” before.

Clearly you aren’t a Soundgarden fan, then. Though somehow that doesn’t surprise me. (I’m not either.)

Ha! too true, Mr. S.! Now I’ll have to check them out…

3. mr_subjunctive - September 15, 2011

(Which, by the way, is why people are regularizing the irregular verbs. Even the people who care about getting it right still get it wrong. Better for all involved — especially in the case of words which aren’t used that often — to turn it regular and avoid all the time-wastage involved in trying to figure out which it is. This sort of thinking leads to constructions like if I was your girl, which you might guess from my name aggrieves me particularly, but it does still make sense to get rid of the subjunctive mood, however attached some of us might be.)

Say it ain’t so, Mr. S.! No more subjunctive?! But it’s definitely going, along with shone and knelt and the like, however sorry some of us might be to see its departure. Soon it will be as hard for moderns to read pre-20th-century English literature as it is for many now to read Chaucer! But language evolves to serve the needs of those who use it, and trying to stop it from changing is like the French government trying to keep foreign words from creeping into French. Resistance is futile.

4. Jen - September 18, 2011

Thanks — very informative. Have NOTHING to do with tomatoes, I recently had to look up the difference between nauseated and nauseous. A person gets nauseated. Something that causes one to get nauseated is nauseous. So I guess that means a person can’t be nauseous? If so, I see that word misused all the time.

Hi Jen! Why of course a person can be nauseous (much like a rotten tomato), if that person makes someone else nauseated. (Don’t we all know some?!) Otherwise, no. Mercifully, neither word comes up too often in my hearing!

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