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He was sat there

February 3, 2012

I’ve just read Paul Wilson’s novel The Visiting Angel, which I am reviewing for the Independent on Sunday. It’s an excellent novel which uses language with great precision – but that’s not why I’m blogging about it. Wilson favours the grammatical form sat over sitting, as in ‘Liam is sat with his back against the side of the laundry building’. This form has always sounded odd to me. It’s in the passive voice, so it gives the impression that the person concerned has been placed or put there by someone else. Along with its cousin stood, it sounds (to me) as though the speaker has some kind of attitude about the person who’s stood or sat – perhaps they’re implying that they’re helpless, or unsuspecting, or clueless, or lazy, or something, anyway: ‘We were stood there with no idea of how we were going to get home’; ‘He was sat there with a stupid grin all over his face’; ‘I walked in and she was sat at the kitchen table, pissed out of her head’.  So it usually has (again, for me) a slightly humorous air, which is lacking in the more standard ‘He was sitting’.

I’ve got an idea that this use of the passive for stand and sit is originally a Northern form, which would fit since Wilson lives in Lancashire, but actually one hears it quite a lot in the South these days. I think it may be gradually turning into a standard rather than a colloquial form, for some reason. I don’t mind it – in fact I quite like it – but would feel self-conscious using it myself.

By the way, my review of The Visiting Angel will be in the Independent on Sunday on Sunday.

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