Past tense Spelling

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Oct 26 16:18:12 UTC 2008

> On Oct 26, 2008, at 7:55 AM, Randy Alexander wrote in answer to David
> Metevia about the spelling "kipnaped":
>> Your examples aren't consistent.  Kidnaped (or kidnapped) is
>> accented on the
>> first syllable, but admitted is accented on the second syllable.  I
>> believe
>> that the "rule" is thus: consonants are doubled before the suffixes -
>> ed,
>> -es, -er, -est, -ing, and -y (I think that's all of them) if the
>> following
>> criteria are met:
>> 1. The last (or only) syllable must end with one consonant letter
>> and one
>> vowel letter.  The letter Y can count as a vowel letter.
>> 2. The last (or only syllable must be accented.
>> W, X, and Y are never doubled.
> (and consonant letters are not doubled otherwise.)
> this is the rule that i got from the style sheet at the newspaper i
> once worked at, but it's not entirely clear.  the problem is with
> clause 2: what counts as "accented"?   the second syllable of "kidnap"
> doesn't bear the primary accent of the verb, but it's not
> *un*accented; it has a weak secondary accent (or tertiary, depending
> on your analysis of accent in english).  so this word, unlike (say)
> "travel", could go either way.
> it took me a while to get used to things like "kidnaped", "kidnaper",
> and "kidnaping".

These 'rules' are not going to reliably provide reasonable spellings
IMHO (at least not without a bunch of footnotes and special exceptions).

Seems obvious from the 'rules' that if "kidnaped" is OK so is "catnaped"
(referring to sleep): is everyone happy with this? Or with
"chitchating", "bootstraped", "bullyraging", etc., etc.?

Of course most of these weird ones (including "kidnaped") will disappear
if secondary stress is accepted as 'stress' (demanding a doubling), but
I doubt secondary stress will be reliably and reproducibly identified.

Nowadays, I suppose the question is insignificant, since whoever
(however incompetent) set up the spell-checker is the arbiter?

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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