Perhaps the most interesting irregular verb form I found in my analyse of the usage guides in HUGE (for a paper I’m giving next week on the topic) is drownded. The only usage guide in the HUGE database that mentions it is Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998), which labels it as dialectal. The word has a separate entry, and here is Garner’s example, in which the offending form is corrected into proper English:
“True, [the flooding] helped duck and geese populations, but it also drownded [read drowned] millions of other living creatures who weren’t favored targets.” “Hunters Are Not Really a Tool of Nature,” Buffalo News, 14 Feb. 1993, at 8.
I checked the Corpus of Contemporary American English as well as the Corpus of Historical American English, and found 17 instances in COCA (all of them either classified or classifiable as fiction or spoken usage). COHA produced 169 instances, though with peaks in the 1880s and 1920s and only single instances for the 1990s and the 2000s. (Which raises the question of whether COCA is included in COHA – probably not given the respective sizes of the two corpora.) If usage is rare today, why did Garner include it? If usage is indeed dialectal, as he suggests, it need not be a usage problem, so why?
How about British English then? The British National Corpus includes five instances, three from dialect produced in fiction, one from real speech and one from children’s writing. Is drownded a form that children produce when overgeneralising irregular verbs? If so, they will very likely get corrected by adults around them. Drownded may be dialectal in British English and characteristic of children’s language, but it is not a usage problem.
Amazingly, I just came across another instance of drownded, in John Banville‘s latest novel, The Blue Guitar (2015), which I happened to be reading:
As we went along he [an “Old MacDonald” type of farmer] told me with relish of a suicide committed in this place years ago. “Drownded himself, he did, after his girl jilted him.”
The novel is written in the form of interior monologue, either in the protagonist’s head or on paper, as a diary. The old farmer isn’t given more than one or two lines of speech, but evidently, making him say drownded was enough as a linguistic characterisation of this marginal character. In this light it is striking that we find whom all over the place in the novel – always used correctly, but to my mind the form a bit of a stylistic incongruity, and I stumbled over it every time. I’m interested in literary authors’ awareness of issues of prescriptivism. Would the novel’s copy-editor have had a hand in this or is this Banville himself?
Finally, I couldn’t resist googling the word, and here are some of the things I found:
- simple past tense and past participle of
- Same thing as drowned, hick style. (Urban Dictionary): hick is defined as “A derogatory slang term for lower class whites raised in rural areas, usually within trailer parks or hog farms. Generally used more for Midwesterners than Southerners” (also Urban Dictionary). Dialectal, in other words, socially as well as geographically.
- Is drownded a word? (English Language & Usage, a self-moderated blog): interesting discussion, which draws on the OED and produces a Google N-gram image showing the “heyday” of drownded as coming between 1850 and 1950 (compared to drownd, past tense, I suppose).
What do readers of our blog think? Is drownded a word, should it be treated as a usage problem in British English, too? Do we hear it more today, as the person raising the question on English Language & Usage says? Was Garner right in including (and proscribing) the form?