Monday, March 22, 2010

The Forbidden Past

Here's another questionable caption--this time from the deliciously addictive time-waster website, Awkward Family Photos*:

Nobody forbid these two to marry, but they decided to poison themselves anyway.

At first I read that opening clause as an imperative (as in, "Don't anybody try to forbid these two...") but it soon becomes obvious that the past tense is what we're going for here, in which case the word should be forbade.

And how should one pronounce forbade? Well, if one has in one's en suite library, on a shelf just above the commode, a copy of The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, by the curmudgeonly and finicky Charles Harrington Elster, one could find this exegesis within:

The spelling pronunciation fur-BAYD has flourished since Webster 3 (1961), in opposition to all previous authority, arbitrarily indicated forbade should be pronounced fur-BAYD...Burchfield, in a peculiar burst of unsubstantiated permissiveness, claims that fur-BAYD "cannot be said to be wrong"; nevertheless, other recent authorities prefer the traditional fur-BAD and current dictionaries list it first.
 So there you have it: fur-BAD is the preferred way to say it, unless you're one of those loosey-goosey linguistic faddists. But wait a minute! Further on in the entry, Elster writes:

The controversy may soon be academic: the evidence of my ears says that forbid is fast replacing forbade as the past tense of forbid.
  WTF? You mean the caption may have it right (or at least acceptable to some standards), after all? I checked around, and indeed some dictionaries appear to sanction the use of forbid in the past tense. I'm afraid I'm going to have to overturn that decision, on the grounds that there is a useful distinction to be made, as indicated by my initial confusion, noted above. That's right--I hereby forbid the use of forbid in past tense contexts. You are, of course, free to appeal my ruling to a higher authority, but until then, court is adjourned.

*Check out their recent collection of  horrendous pictures from the '80s and just try not to squirm as you remember the photographic evidence of your own pastel-shaded, big-haired past.