Monday, December 20, 2004

My Sanken Heart

I got an anonymous comment today on a previous post (this one) that ran like this:
>Descriptivist that I am, I still think,
> as a man of letters, that the resources of a
> language that lead to clarity of communication
> should be both used and preserved. That's why
> my heart sunk when I entered a store...

Speaking of preserving resources that lead to clarity, what ever happened to the simple past tense "sank"?
When I read that, my heart...did something not good. Descriptivist that I am, I still like to use Good Grammar and it looks like I didn't. And still, dang it, my heart sunk still sounds OK to me! Is it because I spent many formative years in Texas? Or could it possibly be that I am on the cutting edge of language drift, for once? Is sunk replacing sank as the past tense of sink, I hope? Or did I actually (shudder) make a mistake?

I decided to ask the only source that knows a lot and will still give you a really quick answer: Google. I googled on heart sunk and got "about 13,700" hits. That was encouraging. At least I'm not alone. But then I googled on heart sank and got "about 137,000" hits. Uh-oh. I'm not alone, but I'm definitely in the minority.

I tried it with some other phrases: his ship sank: 1730, his ship sunk: 434. A better percentage but still a minority. Finally, I tried this sentence: I sank to my knees rounded up 3370, while I sunk to my knees got 864. Even descriptively I would have to admit, then, that my English was non-standard. (By the way, Google asked me on the last-named search if I meant "I link to my knees." No, but that's a really cool sentence.)

So, Anonymous, I'm sorry, man. You nailed me on that one. But check back in 30-40 years, OK? I'll bet you that sunk will be winning by then.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Don't fret so over it! As long as you don't replace Nuclear with Nucular (as another Texan has), you are ahead of the game!