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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Past tense of that newfangled verb "text"

A friend of mine asked me if the past tense of the verb "text" is really "texted", because it sounded odd when she said it out loud. "Texted" it is (Blogger's spellchecker doesn't like it either, judging from the red squiggly line it is warning me with). 

The reason it sounds odd is that we don't have many verbs ending in -xt. But we do have verbs ending in -x (like "fix") which in their past tense sound like -xt. In fact the past of "fix" was spelled "fixt" for a while. Therefore, when you say "texted", your brain thinks you're being redundant with the ending. Something similar happened with the word "skate" which was originally "skates" in the singular, but people thought "skateses" sounded wrong in the plural so eventually they dropped the final -s in the singular.

As frequent visitors to Wordlady, you will know that you can't object to the verb "text" on the grounds that the word is really a noun, not a verb (see my "Verbs: it's ok to do this. Really!" post). But you may think nonetheless that this is a darned newfangled word. Get ready for a surprise: the first evidence we have for "text" as a verb is from... 1599! 

Back then it meant either "write in large or capital letters" (an example in Much Ado About Nothing is: "Yea and text vnder-neath, here dwells Benedick the married man") or "cite a text to" (a bizarrely current-sounding example from 1615 is "When his wench told him that he kissed like a Clowter, he could text her"). Although these meanings died out after about a century, a Victorian job-seeker could still make his job pitch in 1884 as follows: 
"Wanted, a re-engagement as Engrossing and General Clerk‥excellent writer and texter". 
Not something one is likely to see on a CV these days, no matter how true it may be. However, with more employers looking for social-media savvy types, who knows?

Even the current meaning of "text" has been around longer than you probably think: the Oxford English Dictionary's current first evidence for it is from 1998.
The word "text" has a fascinating etymology. Look for it in an upcoming Wordlady "Word of the Week."

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16 comments:

  1. I wish you would tackle the "tack" problem. Once again yesterday I heard a CBC announcer say "he took another tact".
    They're on the wrong tack! Steer them right!
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello,

    Have the "interesting"/"funny" check boxes been done away with ? Or it's my computer ?

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello Michele, thanks for the suggestion. I hadn't even noticed that happening. How interesting. Will definitely look into it and post something.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello ET and others. I did get rid of the check boxes because not many people were using them and I thought the space would be better used for something else.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I might object less to "text" as a verb if there weren't already a useful verb for what's being done: send. We can send a message or read a text, but do we have to use text as something other than a noun?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hello Greg, thanks for your comment. When you think about it, though, couldn't you make the same objection to "phone" and "fax" and even "mail" for that matter?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sometimes young children read "jumpted" for "jumped" (jumpt) because they think they have to pronounce the "ed". "Texted" sounds as if you're adding something unnecessary.
    BTW, Isn't "texting" in it's current meaning a specific activity done with the thumbs on a small hand-held device? Quite different from Shakespeare's texting. And not as general as "sending".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Isobel, of course the meaning of "texting" is different than it was in Shakespeare's time. The point, though, is that "text" has been used as a verb for a very long time.

      Delete
  8. Greg,

    In lieu of all the new technology out today, simply referring to the sending or a message is a little too ambiguous whereas "texting" is more specific. That message you sent, was it a tweet, picture/video message, facebook message, or text message? We eliminate that wordy query by using text as a verb. Hope this helps. Well, I'm off to text my mate. Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  9. Glad I stumbled upon this site! I was happy to know my past-tense usage of "texted" was correct. I've had this debate with people a few times and I've always felt that using "text" as the past and present tenses made no sense gramatically. You've made a new subscriber.
    John

    ReplyDelete
  10. So, you're saying it is ok to say " I texted you yesterday"?

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've always thought it was spelled "texted" but pronounced "text'd"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that is correct, as for all regular verbs ending in -t or -d, the -ed ending is pronounced with the indeterminate schwa vowel

      Delete

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.