Irregulars gone regular

English loses more and more irregular verbs every generation. I’m forever doing a double take when I hear one. Grinded on just startled me in a linguistics nerd kinda way. Not ground on? For a second I felt a pang of regret for an ancient irregular verb. Yet another Old English declension being regularized. But hell, just about every verb in English that adds an ed to the present tense to make the past tense—and that’s most of the verbs in English—violates Old English declension rules. And if King Harold hadn’t gotten his army destroyed and himself killed by a Norman arrow through the eye at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 then we’d still be speaking a language much closer to the language of his day, much closer to German, in fact. Declensions up the wazoo. But he lost and his valiant army was slaughtered and William the Conqueror earned his name. England was to be ruled in French by a harsh and arrogant Norman hand for centuries, and the bastardation of English began, leaving us with this extraordinary thing we write and speak and abuse so wonderfully terribly today. Like adding an ed to a present tense verb to make it a past tense verb whenever we fucking well please. We’ve been doing so for centuries in a never ending process. Thus the ground of my youth is the grinded on MSNBC today. Which is a good thing, really, it simplifies the language and drives grammar nazis up the wall. Still, though, I allow myself a pang of nostalgia for the old verb form, though even 66 year old me will probably be saying grinded soon enough, and a century from now people will wonder what ground beef means. Ground, like what we walk on? And linguist nerds like me will explain how ground was an archaic form of the past tense for grinded, and it’s not grinded beef because ground beef is a compound noun (two words, but grammatically it’s one noun) and compound nouns in a English tend to retain the archaic form, and often do so for centuries, because nouns in English change little over time. The meaning will change, but the word itself will change little. And they’ll feel so smart, those futuristic language nerds, and grandchildren of grandchildren now will roll their eyes, which humans have probably been doing for a couple hundred thousand years, meaning the same thing now that it did then, back before language was even a thing.

The Battle of Hastings, there goes Old English.

You say potato, and I say peruna.

So I tried boiling the potatoes until soft and then dunking them in a bowl of ice water for ten seconds and then peeling off the skins. It worked. Life just got a little bit easier. The skillet already had the diced onion, bell pepper, sweet pepper and collard greens. Dropped in the spuds and let them, brown and make an unholy mess out of the bottom of the pan and hot damn, Irish-German heaven. Spuds, baby, Kartoffels, pomme de terre, papas in a brand new bag. Well, brand new recipe. Well, old recipe, new technique. Thank god for the Incas. Without them we might still be eating gruel. Though I don’t know who the lazy bum was who brainstormed on this boiling and dunking thing. A Finn maybe, leaping from the sauna into a ice cold lake. Peruna the Finns call a potato. Comes from Swedish, something to do with pears. Probably Swedes messing with Finnish minds. Here, Aarni, have a pear. Though the Germans used to call then earth pears. At some point they became kartoffels, from the Italian. The French called them earth apples. The Swiss still call them earth apples. A little too close to road apples. I wonder about Europeans sometimes.

The Finns eventually Finnicized the Swedish word for pear into peruna and left it at that. Or would have had Finnish been English where a noun nearly always remains the same no matter what you’re doing with it. Whether you’re eating or mashing or throwing or thinking about or discussing a potato from last year, it’s potato. Same word. Stick an es on the end if it’s more than one. The e is the irregular bit. As with tomatoes. That’s all you have to memorize about more than one potato. That penultimate e.

But the crazy Finnish language has fifteen cases that can alter peruna into fourteen other words depending on specific things you are doing with the potato. Well, thirteen different words because one of the different words is used by two different cases. Each case changes peruna into something else, and same for plurals. So by itself a potato is a peruna. More than one is perunat. A baked peruna, but mashed perunat. But as they were my potatoes they were perunoiden. When I dropped them into the pot they were perunoihin. Once in the pot they were perunoissa. As they boiled they were perunoita. When they were finally softened they were perunoiksi. As I took them out of the pot they were perunoista. When I removed the skins they were perunoitta. In the skillet with onions and peppers they were perunoineen. When I took them off the fire they were perunoilta. As I put them on the plate they were perunoille. As they sat there on the plate they were perunoilla. And when I gave them to my wife they were perunat again. For those of you taking notes, those were the plural declensions for the nominative, genitive, illative, inessive, partitive, translative, elative, abessive, comitative, ablative, allative, adessive, and accusative cases.

You’ve probably heard of the nominative and accusative cases. Maybe the genitive if you learned German. The other ten cases defy non-technical explanation. Ten ways of describing potatoes in specific potato circumstances that you’ve never imagined were so profoundly different that entirely different words are required to say potato. Each of which follows rather intricate rules. Alter the potato’s situation slightly and a new case applies with its own specific rules for altering the ending or adding syllables that turn peruna into perunoissa or perunoita or perunoiksi.

Luckily we ate them in English.