Spilt/spilled milk

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Mon Dec 31 17:53:36 UTC 2001

In a message dated 12/31/2001 4:29:21 AM Eastern Standard Time,
rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU writes:

> One example which comes to mind is "I have learnt my
>  lesson" vs "He is a *learnt/learn-ed man", where the two past participles
>  have gone separate ways. Conversely, at least in US English, one may have
>  a burnt/burned match (though I suspect "burnt" is obsolescing), but not
>  a *burn-ed match.

I can't help thinking of modern poetry, in which the tendency is not to have
the verse scan.  In the 19th century, when most verse did scan, there was a
convention that the final "-ed" could always be split off into a syllable by
itself if necessary for the scansion.  For example, "Casey at the Bat" (I'm
quoting from memory)

     "But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake
      And the former was a puddin', and the latter was a fake..."

      "But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all
       And the much despis-ed Blakely tore the cover off the ball
       So when the dust had settled and they saw what had occurred
       There was Blakely safe on second, and Flynn a-hugging third"

Not only was "despised" given three syllables to make the line scan, but
"hugging" also acquired an extra syllable and in the previous stanza the
unlov-ed Mr. Blakely lost a syllable off his name.

Conclusion: with the long-standing current fashion for non-scanning poetry,
modern-day readers and listeners have forgotten that the "-ed" used to,
sometimes, be pronounced when a poet decided it be necessary, and hence
simply do not expect -ed to ever be a separate syllable.

                 - Jim Landau

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