Friday, February 08, 2008

NYT shining a shade less gray this morning?

I always assume pretty conservative usage from the NYT. More precisely, if dictionaries list two options, I expect to see the old-fashioned one in their page. So, I was a little surprised by this headline:
Clinton’s Fund-Raising Success Is Outshined by Obama’s
They used the verb form I would have, but I probably would have avoided a past participle in a prominent place, like a headline, because neither option — outshone or outshined — sounds completely comfortable.

12 comments:

Jan said...

Hi Mr. V,

The Times (like some other publications) tries to differentiate "shined" and "shone" by transitivity. The stylebook says: "When shine has an object, the past tense is shined: He shined the light at the boat." But: "The sun shone yesterday."

MWDEU says the strong and weak forms of the verb have been competing since the 16th century; "shone" is more widely used in Britain now, but Americans use both. Of course, only journalists observe (or even hear of) the strict division the Times would like to enforce.

Hope that's illuminating . . .
Jan Freeman

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Yeah, that is illuminating ... and the distinction sounds fine in those examples. Part of what seemed odd was the passive, but I'm not sure "Obama's success outshone Clinton's" sounds good either. We all avoid certain forms that don't quite work or where we're unsure of what sounds right, and this is definitely one of those for me.

q-pheevr said...

I notice they've changed the headline to "Obama Outshines Clinton at Raising Funds," which neatly avoids not only the passive voice, but also the past tense.

For me, I have clear intuitions about "The sun shone brightly" vs. "He shined his shoes"; I feel a bit less certain about "He ___ the light at the boat." The original headline sounded pretty thoroughly ungrammatical to me; "Clinton's success is outshone by Obama's" seems distinctly better, but still a bit odd.

Mr. Verb said...

Excellent, thanks! I didn't even think to check whether they'd changed it. And for me at least, they've solved the problem ... the new version sounds fine.

Anonymous said...

Was there a stream of peevologists complaining or what?

Ollock said...

Never really paid much attention to shined/shone before. I think my own preference is for "shined" in most cases, though oddly "The sun shone" doesn't cause any reaction in me. I think that for me "shone" might be intransitive while "shined" can be either.

Also -- and I know this is not scientific and probably based on some sort of bias -- "shone" seems to have a someone archaic or academic quality for me, as if it were a "high" or "formal" variant used by writers that might also employ more Latinate terms and forms to give that impression of formality. Probably somehow related to contexts where I've heard it or some strong association that I can't remember consciously. Almost feels like the whole sound of "shone" with that strong /ow/ diphthong sounds like a "high" variant fit for Elizabethan theatre.

Mr. Verb said...

Who knows, Anon, but I get the impression it sounded odd to lots of folks -- editors and readers.

Ollock, the editor's guide that Jan referred to actually has a set of statements like yours, though often more harshly formulated, of course. But opinions are all over the places on this, even if lots of people seem to abhor the variation in one way or another.

Thanks.

Ellen K. said...

I'm thinking I would say "The sun was shining". Seems odd to talk about the sun shining in the non-progressive past tense. (I hope I'm getting my terminology right.) I'm thinking I'd use shined (outshined) transitively, and "was shining" for intrasitive situations. I can't think up a situation without a direct object where shined/shone would be preferable (in my mind) to "was shining". (And I don't think "outshine" can be used intrasitively.)

hh said...

While it's true that 'outshined' can't be used intransitively, it's actually derived from intransitive 'shine', rather than transitive 'shine'. The transitivity of the prefixed form comes from the 'out-' prefix, not from 'shine' itself... Consider:

Mary sang
~ Sue outsang Mary
Mary sang a song
~ *Sue outsang a song Mary...

In short, 'out-' only attaches to intransitive verbs. "Clinton is outshined/outshone by Obama" is comparing the degrees to which Obama and Clinton shone (intransitive), and stating that the degree of shining of the former was greater than that of the latter, by using the transitivizing 'out-' prefix.

So, since the intransitive verb is the head of the complex form, its irregularity feels like it should, um, shine through, as in 'understand~understood' etc. It's not really transitive 'shine', which means something quite different, methinks. Transitive 'shine' is causative. In 'Obama outshone Clinton', there's no causation whatever...

actually, there's an interesting directionality to the irregularity. I wonder whether, in causative/inchoative pairs where only one is irregular, it's always the inchoative?

Mr. Verb said...

Nicely explained, hh, and a very interesting hypothesis. I had simply assumed it was a strong verb that got snared by prescriptivist claws as it was becoming weak, but a structural connection is usually lurking in these cases. Maybe you were considering this in light of the cliche that extended and figurative uses tend to eliminate wrinkles -- flew to Phoenix, flied out to left field (spring training's coming!)?

I don't see anything that suggests such a pattern in, say, Beth Levin's book, but that was a quick glance. I'll dig a little and maybe there's stuff for a post of its own. (I'm resisting the temptation, as someone now known to dislike reading, to write "a post of it's on".)

q-pheevr said...

Ollock said: "Almost feels like the whole sound of "shone" with that strong /ow/ diphthong sounds like a "high" variant fit for Elizabethan theatre."

To me, shone with the /ow/ diphthong would sound very incongruous in the context of Elizabethan theatre. The /ʃown/ pronunciation is a distinctly American one; in the Commonwealth, shone rhymes with gone.

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