July 11, 2003
Oops! He Did It Again

James Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review is a sic, sic man. Here is how he quotes a Sydney Morning Herald columnist:*

Frank Sartor's once sparkling Olympic footpaths are now smeared with the oil of a million spilt [sic] milkshakes and hotdogs....

Yes, Capozzola added the "[sic]". If he had checked a dictionary first, he would know that 'spilt' and 'spilled' are equally correct forms of the verb. For instance, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which is very full and recently updated, lists both as forms of 'spill' without any indication that one is better than the other, not even an 'obsolete' or 'archaic' for 'spilt'.

It does list 'spilled' before 'spilt', presumably because it is commoner today in most contexts. The one context in which 'spilt' is still common is the well-known proverb "there's no use crying over spilt milk": Google gives roughly 20% more hits for "cry over spilt milk" than for "cry over spilled milk", and nearly twice as many if "crying" is substituted in both.

'Cry over spilt milk' is the only form of the phrase given (under 'milk') in the Shorter OED. Since the columnist quoted is referring to milkshakes, I think it's fair to assume that he's alluding to the proverb. Once again, Capozzola has, like a pretentious twit, corrected something that was not wrong. Or would that be 'as a pretentious twit'?

Of course, if he'd only put the "[sic]" after "milkshake" instead of before, he would have a graceful escape. He could claim that he was mocking the idea that milkshakes have significant quantities of oil in them. Then again, perhaps Sydney milkshakes do.

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*First and only post for July 10th. I have a firm policy of refusing to link to anyone who refuses to link to anyone who links to Little Green Footballs.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 11, 2003 08:28 PM

I am too lazy to look it up right now, but it is my distinct impression that "spilt" is the norm in British English, but a bit odd and even affected in contemporary American English.

Posted by: David on July 13, 2003 07:38 PM

I am feeling equally slothful and am inclined to grant your supposition David, but wouldn't that make Mr. Capazzola's use of sic erroneous bordering on feckless? I say this because the Sydney Morning Herald is an Australian paper, and the Australian variant of English is more closely related to British English than contemporary American English. Therefore if “spilt” is the norm in British English one might expect it to be the norm in an Australian Newspaper article.

Posted by: Robert Modean on July 14, 2003 01:55 PM

This weakening of preterites/past participles is a very US English thing. I saw the following in the second paragraph of this article in the Christian Science Monitor:

'This month, the spark may have been lighted.'

Lighted? LIGHTED? Good Lord, it's lit, man. We'll be reading 'he falled down the stairs' next. Or, 'I growed that myself'. I've already seen the barbarous 'swimmed' instead of 'swam/swum' in print. Whither sang/sung? Blew/blown? It's a shame - it certainly (to my ear) makes English less lyrical. I know English weakened a wide variety of Anglo-Saxon verbs, but this is going too far. And Capazzola's sophomoric usage of sic doesn't border on the feckless, it borders on the illiterate.

Posted by: David Gillies on July 14, 2003 03:50 PM