Fwd: Tighty-whiteys and "didn't used to"

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Dec 21 14:54:17 UTC 2006

on "use(d) to", mail to a correspondent last year:

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu>
> Date: April 10, 2005 9:05:27 AM PDT
> To: ...
> Subject: Re: Tighty-whiteys and "didn't used to"
> On Apr 9, 2005, at 8:37 PM, I wrote:
>> the difference between "used to" and "use to" is entirely a matter
>> of spelling, for me and many other speakers.  but the syntax is
>> interesting; CGEL has some comments on it, and i've been thinking
>> about it.
>> "people did not use(d) to" would be fine for me, with the
>> appropriate prosody.
> it's possible that there are still people who say [juzd tu] for
> "used to" and [juz tu] in "didn't use(d) to" -- or [just tu] and
> either [jus tu] or [juz tu], respectively -- thereby distinguishing
> the words in ways that would call for the spellings "used" vs.
> "use".  ([t@], with a schwa, is generally available as an
> alternative to [tu]; that's not what i'm talking about here.)
> maybe that's what James Cochrane is going on about in this entry in
> his Between You And I (pp. 35-6):
> In John Lanchester's much-admired novel _The Debt to Pleasure_
> (1996) it is surprising to find his pedantic and supposedly erudite
> hero using the phrase "It _didn't used_ to be"....  This expression
> is extremely common, but if it were correct it would be the only
> occasion on which _didn't_ is not followed by the infinitive form
> of the verb.  We say "_didn't_ walk," "_didn't_ buy," "_didn't_
> go"; we don't say "_didn't_ walked," "_didn't_ bought," "_didn't_
> wen't."  So why do we say "_didn't_ used"?
>       It may be that the answer is that the verb "to use" in the sense
> of "to do as a customary practice" is never encountered in the
> present tense.  [AMZ: much more important, it's never encountered
> in what Cochrane calls the infinitive form, either, as in *"We
> believe him to use to be a pedant" 'We believe that he used to be a
> pedant' and *"He might use to have been a pedant" 'It might be that
> he used to be a pedant'; this is the form normally used with
> "didn't".]  We are "used to" saying that someone "used to" be or do
> something.  Therefore when we hear someone correctly say something
> like "He _didn't use_ to wear gloves" (as Peter Cheney wrote in
> 1964) we have grown accustomed to hearing it as "_didn't
> used_ ...."  It is, nevertheless, an illiterate form of words that
> educated people should avoid, at least in writing.
> [the "at least in writing" suggests that Cochrane realizes that
> there would normally be no difference in speech between "used to"
> and "use to".  his insistence on the spelling "use to" in "didn't
> use to" would then be a claim that this is the way the infinitive
> form of "used to" *would be spelled if there were one*.  this is
> seriously convoluted pendantry.  so what we have here is a dispute
> about which spelling is to be preferred -- one that preserves the
> spelling of the verb across its uses or one that would represent
> the infinitive form of a verb that has the past tense "use".  i
> believe that rational people could disagree on this point, and
> there is in fact no established convention.  certainly there's no
> issue of substance here, and nothing deserving shrieks of
> "illiterate!"]
> arnold zwicky

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