February 25, 2007

Dared questioned

Take a look at this paragraph by Philip Nobel ( "Lust for height", American.com, 2/23/2007):

In October, at the premier international conference of skyscraper builders, the first speaker announced without a hint of irony or doubt that by 2030, somewhere, a mile-high skyscraper would be built. Five thousand two hundred and eighty feet. One-tenth of the way to the ozone layer. More than three times as tall as anything now standing and exactly as high as the most fantastic towers ever dared conceived. [emphasis added]

The last two words brought me up short. (Please calm down, Mr. Rose! If I saw this "ever dared conceived" in a student composition, I'd red-pencil it and suggest substituting the simpler "ever conceived", or perhaps the more emphatic "that anyone has ever dared to conceive". Now, may I propose a truce in the War of the 'Scriptivists while we try to figure out what's going on here? Feel free to help yourself to a drink and browse through my heirloom collection of the McGuffy Readers. This won't take long.)

Let's start with a simpler example of the same construction, chosen from the many available on the web:

Nothing was dared left outside.

People who use this construction seem to see it as a passive form of dare+V, following an analogy something like this:

<someone> left nothing outside
 ⇔  nothing was left outside
<someone> dared leave nothing outside

nothing was dared left outside

With an extra "to be" -- "Nothing was dared to be left outside" -- this would be just like the "double passives" that Neal Whitman blogged about a couple of years ago ("Double Your Passive, Double Your Fun", 5/16/2005). Some of Neal's examples:

For custom orders, full payment must be received before the item is begun to be made.
If any terms or conditions are failed to be followed it will result in grounds for immediate account deactivation.

I agree with Neal that this construction "makes less sense the more you try to parse it like any other passive, but ... sounds pretty natural if you just go with it". At least Neal's examples -- which all have the form "<be> past-participle to be past-participle" -- are like that. Like the need + V-en construction ("The cat needs fed"), they're not part of my version of English, but they don't feel all that far outside it.

The "dared conceived" and "dared left" examples seem much weirder to me. Despite this, they're fairly common on the internets:

In the fall of '97, this frighteningly talented foursome crossed paths, generating in one action-packed week in upstate New York, some of the most visceral, spiritual, and meticulously textured instrumental progressive rock dared attempted in the late '90s.
Come down to The Comic Strip and witness freakish acts not dared attempted by the craziest of carnival carnies.
You are facing a player in a tournament who has brought in a deck that has never been dared tried before.
The strong room in the cellar contains several expensive vases and glass lenses that are not finished, but not dared left in the open.
Barely a breath was dared drawn.
There is no government as coldly efficient as a dictatorship--no opinions are requested--none are dared given.

But while I was looking for these examples, I found a range of dare contructions that are way beyond weird. Here are a few samples:

The true potential of our children is far more profound than we've dared imagined.
But nobody dared attempted a coup: too dificult too risky...
During the following five years, Frances, disappointed, never dared opened her heart to anyone about the distress of her soul.
Frequently when these countries dared pushed back, the west made sure governments were toppled, or coerced into playing along.

There are active, not passive. Where I would say or write "she never dared open her heart", these folks use "she never dared opened her heart".

It appears that the morphology of dared -- which may be a preterite in cases like "nobody dared" or a past participle in cases like "we've dared" -- is copied on the following verb, which (in my version of English) should be the bare stem form. We can tell this from irregular verbs that distinguish the preterite and past-participle forms, e.g.

The backdoor was always unlocked and Mom served only red Kool-Aid to the neighborhood kids – we never dared drank that New Coke.
So, we never dared gave him anything chunky.
For years, no one dared gave another interpretation, but slowly the situation changed.
Two hours later and still no sign of Tyson, Kai was feeling irritable and glared at anyone who dared gave him a flirtatious look or a sympathetic one.

Hamas stated this week that the real problem was Rushdie was still alive and if he'd been gotten then nobody would have dared drawn those cartoons.
If Kloss thought the Jewish Defense League were going to kill him, he would never have never dared drawn it.
They have served as police officers, tax collectors, teachers, and have dared drawn a salary from the mandatory tithe to "support their families"
He hasn't dared eaten it.
Bourdain has played a large role in my burgeoning love of good food, opening my eyes to things I wouldn't have dared eaten before.
Now mind you, I wouldn't have dared eaten one of them since she licked her fingers every time she put a chocolate chip or jelly bean on them.
I would not have dared given that speech myself, unless I knew for sure the outcome of the Iraqi elections.
He dearly loves his father and sister, and he feels comfortable expressing it--again, I don't think he would have dared given dad a hug six months ago,

I've only found two examples where the preterite (wrote, ran) is used in a context where the past participle (written, run) would be expected:

lol true story son cuz if he had myspace she wouldn't of dared wrote that on my wall.
When I was in elementary school I wouldn't have dared ran home and told my parents I got in trouble at school, I would have been in even more trouble.

But I wouldn't be surprised to find that these same writers would produce "she wouldn't of wrote that" or "I wouldn't have ran home". I haven't found any examples where a distinguished past-participle form is used where the preterite would have been expected. (By the way, Mr. Rose -- yes, that Midleton's is rather nice, isn't it? -- I hope that you appreciate my efforts to check that strange syntax is coupled with appropriate morphology.)

Here's a sample of other examples from the web. (There are so many irregular verbs because those are the ones I searched for.)

While I owned my old Prostar, I preached MC and would not have dared bought another brand.
It gave me the title Convolution and the game has grown and evolved in ways I wouldn't have dared imagined earlier.
It had the reputation of getting out of difficulties through smaller chances than few would have dared attempted.
Since I haven't even been able to make the simple scarf, I haven't dared attempted a dress.
When I read The Nation that winter, I wouldn’t have dared thought that I would be engaged in a private spat with Noam Chomsky himself.
I wouldn't have dared left on my own, but getting thrown out--I suppose I owe you for that, if nothing else.
NITANALDI is very possibly the store you have dreamed of but never dared thought would exist.
So she had never once dared opened a Bible, even though she would see them sometimes and wondered what could be so dangerous about the book.
Well before wine snobs dared opened their minds -- and palates -- to bottles under $15, Bennett was specializing in the stuff.
She noticed Harry closing his eyes and taking a deep, steadying breath before he dared opened them again.

It's so strange to discover that this is part of some people's version of the English language that you may be worried that these are simply compositional errors of some sort.

There are at least two ways such errors could creep in.

First, someone might simply perseverate a verb form while typing . Thus when I mean to write "wanting to leave", once in a while, I can imagine that my fingers might produce "wanting to leaving". That's not because I think that "wanting to leaving" is part of the English language. There are 25 instances of {"wanting to leaving"} in Google's index now, and I'd guess that most of them would be disavowed by their writers. And there are 198 examples of {"wanted to tried"}. (Though who knows, maybe English syntax is more variable than we think...)

Second, someone might write the form without dared -- e.g. "he would never have drawn it" -- and then decide to add the daring part, while forgetting to change the original verb to the bare stem form.

I don't have a compelling argument against the theory that many if not all of the examples above are mistakes of these types. A weak argument is that such things do occur in publications that have been edited (though of course these also sometimes contain typos):

Raymond J. Haberski, "It's Only a Movie!: Films and Critics in American Culture", 2001, p.104, writing about The Bicycle Thief:

The ending of de Sica's movie was a stark illustration of the potential power of realistic films: After attempting to steal a bicycle in order to replce the one stolen from him, the protagonist is caught and humiliated in front of his son, set free by the owner of the bicycle, and closes the film weeping and still without a bicycle. No Hollywood producer would have dared left the audience with such a final image.

Mark Rogers, 52 Greatest Moments World Series of Poker, 2007 (Acknowledgments)

I could not have had a better consultant than my father, Mark G. Rogers, for the book and for that matter, anything else I have dared attempted in life.

David Zahn, Quintessential Guide to Using Consultants, 2004, p. 65:

However, far fewer of those consultants would have dared attempted to consult on topics outside of their "Quality Improvement Process" work.

Ocala Star-Banner, 10/26/2005:

"I don't care how many vacant seats were there, nobody dared attempted to sit up front," said Parker, a retired educator.

So for now, I'll leave it that there's some evidence of a minority pattern in English that spreads preterite or past-participle inflection across active dare+V sequences. If this pattern is part of your idiolect, or if you know someone who talks or writes this way and doesn't see anything wrong with it when you ask them, please let me know.

And don't worry that I'll think badly of you. Before collecting and studying these examples, I would never have dared thought that anyone would speak or write this way; but it's starting to seem almost normal to me. (Whoa, Mr. Rose, I said "almost". Please put down that bow of burning gold, walk away from the chariot of fire, and let me pour you another drink.)

[Update -- Beatrice Santorini writes "the funny thing is that this construction is starting to sound quite natural to me!" And John Foreman explains that he started out in that state, giving these details:

My initial intuitions are that the dared+past participle constructions you mentioned sound just fine to me. In fact, I was having a hard time seeing what your issue with them was at first. So,

   I wouldn't have dared gone and written something like that.

sounds fine to me. In fact, the plain forms sound a little odd:

   ?I wouldn't have dared go and write something like that.

It's ok if we remove the perfective and get plain forms across the board:

   I wouldn't dare go and write something like that.

This does suggest that the verbs are agreeing with one another in form. I think I can even do it with the 3rd singular -s:

   If he dares goes and writes something like that, I'll be so upset.

Oddly though, I had more trouble with preterites following dared. The examples you gave with irregular preterites after preterite dared generally sounded odd to me. The one sentence

   Two hours later and still no sign of Tyson, Kai was feeling irritable and glared at anyone who dared gave him a flirtatious look or a sympathetic one.

sounded better. The others, not so good.

In those, I think I would be tempted to use the plain form but honestly, the plain form doesn't always sound right there either:

   *I never dared did such a thing.
   ?I never dared do such a thing.

   ??I never dared went and wrote something like that.
   ??I never dared go and write something like that.

My intuitions are breaking down on these following guys, but I kind of like the second and third ones better. The first and fourth not so much.

   Who dared went to the party?
   Who dared go to the party?
   Who dared went and wrote something like that?
   Who dared go and write something like that?

(The she wouldn't of dared wrote and I wouldn't have dared ran home examples are fine for me, since I do say I should've went to the store. And I do recognize this as nonstandard and wouldn't write that in formal contexts, but I didn't view non-plain forms following dare as nonstandard (or even as a place where there is dialectal variation. Neat.))

Again, my intuitions are shaky with preterite dared and unfortunately I don't have an analyzed corpus of my speech to search through. But I will try to keep my ears open for such unseflconscious uses in the future. I look forward to seeing what else you turn up on this.

OK, I'm convinced. This is a real lectal difference, not just a collection of sporadic typographical errors. The next questions: What are its geographical and social distributions? When and where did it start? Or is it a sporadic grammatical mutation rather than a variant that's transmitted from parent to child or from peer to peer? And most important, what is it, really?

(Sorry, Mr. Rose, I'd forgotten about you. "Ecrasez l'infame", you say? Um, did I ever show you my first edition of Walton Burgess's "Five Hundred Mistakes Corrected", from 1855? His remarks about that and which are fascinating. And he agrees with you about the importance of using adverbs in place of adjectives whenever possible -- correction #454 urges "the genteel speaker" to substitute "This writing looks shockingly" for "This writing looks shocking"...)


Posted by Mark Liberman at February 25, 2007 07:19 AM