A Past-Tense Verb

Today I’m going to talk about a blind spot in my brain – one of many, I’m sure!

Lately I’ve been going through some New Yorker magazines that piled up while I was working on my book about Shaw.  I came across a wonderfully written article about comedian Joan Rivers that you can read here. (I’m going to add something admirable about Rivers that wasn’t mentioned in the article. She used to donate all her nightclub fees to a charity that provides nutritious food to patients in New York.)

There’s something odd in that article, however. Take a look at this sentence:

Eventually, exhausted, she slunk back to her teen-age bedroom.

Slunk? Obviously that was wrong. But then what was the right verb? Slank? I – Jean Reynolds, your self-appointed language expert – couldn’t come up with an answer to that question.

I did the obvious thing and went to the American Heritage Dictionary website to look up the past tense of slink. Guess what: it’s slinked. Slunk isn’t listed.

But doesn’t it sound right? Turns out I’m not the only person who feels that way.  Novelist Ursula Le Guin used slunk in an article also published in the New Yorker:

On a banquet night in Berkeley once, when somebody jogged my arm and my beer went straight down the back of Mrs. Robert Heinlein’s dress, I slunk away into the crowd.

I did some sleuthing (don’t you love these -sl words?) and discovered that Oxford University has already admitted slunk into its dictionary. (Did you know that lexicographers from one dictionary might disagree with lexicographers at another dictionary?)

Isn’t language interesting?

Joan Rivers

Portrait of Joan Rivers courtesy of Underbelly Limited


2 thoughts on “A Past-Tense Verb

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.