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February 21, 2016

Jane Merrick in today’s Independent on Sunday says that “The PM has slayed the beast of ever-closer union”. Even my spellcheck programme knows that isn’t right. It should of course be slain. The verb slay is irregular and mutates thus: slay/slew/slain. It does tend to happen that these slightly archaic verbs get regularised, simply because they are not used often enough for people to remember the irregular forms. I’ve seen the same thing happen with strive, which goes, or went, strive/strove/striven, but these days you are more likely to see both past and past participle rendered as strived.

While I’m on this subject I feel I should record the best spontaneous pun I have ever made. I was once teaching a class on First World War poetry, and one of the students remarked that she’d read that when the soldiers were sent food packages from home their absolute favourite thing to receive was chocolate. Quick as a flash I answered: “Yes, because a Mars a day helps you work, rest and slay.”

(Bows modestly to thunderous applause.)

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