Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pleading the Case for "Pleaded"

Performer/loathsome cretin Chris Brown is in the news again. According to a piece on The Daily Beast he suffered a seizure a few days ago, brought on by (according to his publicist) the "stress and non-stop negativity" he has to endure from people who refer to him as a loathsome cretin.

The story goes on to say that:
 Brown has been on felony probation since he plead guilty in 2009 to beating his girlfriend, Rihanna. Since then, he has been in and out of court, most recently having his probation revoked after a May 12 hit-and-run case.

When you are looking for the past tense of "to plead" there are three ways to go, and for my money this is the least attractive option. According to lawyer/word nerd Bryan Garner, author of the estimable A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 
"The best course is to treat plead as a weak verb, so that the correct past tense, as well as past participle, is pleaded."  
The Columbia Journalism Review seems to agree, while noting that pled has its supporters, too. The author of this article points out that we don't say "he pled for his life" we say "pleaded." But we don't say "readed" or "speeded," counters a crafty "pled"-loving lawyer he quotes.

In the end however, the author delivers the verdict:

There may be room for argument, and “pled” may gaining [sic]. It is certainly not irrational for the ear to prefer it to “pleaded.” But the strong preference here, and clearly the safer course in American journalistic writing early in the 21 st century, remains “pleaded.”

Now, as it turns out "plead" is an alternative past tense option in the language, but it is "alternative" in the way a talentless garage band is. It's just never seen in credible legal circles. Nobody but a loathsome cretin would use it.