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The Vine: January 16, 2013

Submitted by on January 16, 2013 – 9:24 AM39 Comments


I have a small child who loves the Berenstain Bears and we read them over and over. The phrase below seems incorrect, but I'm not a grammar expert so I'd like to get a definitive answer. Here's the complete text:

Brother and Sister picked up their safety gear and sneaked out of the woods while Too-Tall and the gang were bouncing off the trees.

I think that "sneaked" is incorrect, would "snuck" be a better way to phrase this?

Flummoxed in Bear Country

Dear Flummoxed,

According to Garner, "snuck is a nonstandard past tense and past participle of sneak common in American dialectical and informal speech and writing. The standard past form is sneaked." Writer's Digest confirmed that "sneaked" is the standard in an article last June, adding that, while "snuck" is not preferred, it's "also acceptable."

My first instinct was to agree with you. I assumed that "sneak" is one of those semi-irregular verbs whose past tense gets tricky (i.e., "sink") or varies depending on what's meant (i.e., "hung a picture," "hanged a murderer"). A forensic history of the past tense of "sneak" would likely reveal that we've overcorrected on it, assuming that it's like "stick / stuck," when the verb's engineering is actually quite ordinary.

In any case, "snuck" is not the preferred way to phrase it, but if it's a better way to phrase it for you, it's not incorrect, so go for it.

(Also, this has nothing to do with anything, but the edition of Garner I'm looking at has a discrete entry on the sola topi, "a pith helmet, originating in India, made from the sola plant." Evidently, it's frequently mis-rendered as "solar topi." Not having much occasion to write about Dr. Livingston types, I'd never heard the term or its incorrect stepsibling, and I don't recall if the entry survived to subsequent editions; it just caught my eye as I leafed towards "snuck." My schoolmates used to wonder, not particularly kindly, how I could "end up" reading the dictionary after going to look up a single word. This is how. As you were.)

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  • Brona says:

    I I'll be jiggered. I always thought it *was* "solar topi". You live and you learn.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    (I love that it's the addendum that gets the first comment — that someone had heard of "sola topi.") ("Solar topi" does make a kind of sense, if we think of pith helmets as protection from the sun.)

  • Allie says:

    But how does the letter writer feel about the Bear family going Christian since Stan B's death, that's what I want to know.

  • Maria says:

    I disliked those bears. I felt the author was too judgemental. There's one where a little bear is at a doctor's appointment, getting height and weight measured. One minute it's wow you're really growing, the next minute it's "too many cookies, little bear". I just really resent that message in a toddler or preschooler's book.

  • Jessica says:

    Maria, you're thinking of Corduroy Goes to the Doctor. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of complaints about the Berenstain Bears (and we don't even let the Jan and Mike books into our house–I'm Jewish), but the BBs Go to the Doctor is actually one of the better ones.

    … says the mom of two, the older being 3.5 and a big BB fan.

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    I have nothing substantial to add, except that my friend's refer to the series as the "Embarrassing Bears," which cracks us both up with its inadvertent accuracy.

  • Soph says:

    Not sure which version you have, but I'm happy to report that it's in the third edition, as are "naphtha," TWO variant forms of "janissary," and an entry on "crawfish" vs. "crayfish" vs. "crawdad."

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    "And when there were no crawdads, we ate sand." "You ate sand?" "We ate sand."

  • Sandman says:

    I don't recall if the entry survived to subsequent editions; it just caught my eye as I leafed towards "snuck." My schoolmates used to wonder, not particularly kindly, how I could "end up" reading the dictionary after going to look up a single word. This is how. As you were.)

    Wait – so I'm NOT the only one who does this? Oh, this explains so very much about why I love TN.

    I always thought that "hung a picture"/"hanged a murderer" is a distinction worth preserving. But you might (or might not) be surprised at the number of blank looks or correcty-pants faces I get when I say someone was hanged.

  • Jo says:

    For what it's worth, the AP Stylebook (I have the app, so this is the most updated information possible) says to use "sneaked." It says "do not use the colloquial 'snuck.' "

  • Meri says:

    Not only did I read the dictionary, on one occasion I was left in the car while my mom went grocery shopping. Since I didn't have anything else on hand, I ended up reading my mom's nursing books, mostly looking up the diseases that struck all the people in the other books I liked to read. ("Ah, so THAT'S what polio is. Now, can I find consumption listed…")

  • Cimorene says:

    Jessica, I'm sure that someone gets pinched and reprimanded by the doctor for eating too many cookies. I remember this because I remember thinking that whenever I pinched anyone, or got pinched by anyone (and by "anyone" I mean my brother), they didn't pinch any fat/flesh, just skin. And I tried to pinch my fat/flesh the way the doctor was pinching the bear in question, and couldn't really do it because to grab a handful of flab you have to grab, not pinch.

    Obviously, I was a precocious child.

    There may be more than one version of going to the doctor, or it may have been changed, I suppose. But I've never read Corduroy Goes to the Doctor and I'm sure I read about this in the BB books.

    I also remember the one where they give up TV for a week, and when Brother Bear is like, "Wait how can we check the weather though, Mama Bear?" she's like "Look out the window." And sticks her hand out the window to see if it's raining. And I was like, "But what if you go to school and it's not raining in the morning, so you wear your canvas sneakers and a light jacket, but everyone else knew it was GOING to rain in the afternoon, so they wear their rubber boots, but then you get wet on your way home from school because you didn't have Channel 4's Doppler Radar system to tell you about the impending storm?!?! Why wouldn't Mama Bear just say that they could read about the weather in the newspaper, where it's reported every day, when she said that they could read the newspaper to check the news when Papa Bear objected to her new no-tv rule by saying he needed to know what was going on in the world? God Mama Bear is not a good house leader."

    I am beginning to realize that I was super neurotic as a kid.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I am imagining @Cimorene's parents all "…Really?" during this monologue, and it is hilarious. "But –" "DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT WE SAID."

  • Rebecca says:

    Speaking of Elizabeth Enright (mentioned in a recent Vine), in one of her Gone-Away Lake books Uncle Pin has a solar something, but I don't think it was spelled solar topi. I almost want to say it was a solar toupee…ah, a little Googling suggests it was probably solar topee. He talks about how fabulously cool and protective it is in the hot summer. (Juvenile/YA fiction nerd, right over here. I'd say "party of one" but I know that's not true in Tomato Nation.)

  • Wehaf says:

    Cimorene and Maria – I think you might be thinking of "The B.B. and Too Much Junk Food". There's definitely a judgmental doctor tsk-tsking over fat.

    The hanged/hung distinction always make me think of the "they said you was hung" scene from Blazing Saddles:

  • Bridget says:

    @Sars–I am trying to figure out how my 12-year-old is masquerading as an adult with the username "Cimorene" on TN. 'Cause boy, have we had those kinds of "discussions" a time or two…

  • doriette says:

    I used to get LOST in the dictionary. So deeply that I'd FORGET the original word I was SUPPOSED to be looking for. Then, I'd get YELLED at, for forgetting. Until I finally explained to my mother what was happening, and she was all "Oh. Yeah. Happens to me, all the time."

    So, yeah. As you were? I was.

    Also, WOW, @Cimorene. That's amazing logic. I loved the Berenstain Bears when I was a kid, but never noticed the inconsistencies. I'm kinda jealous, that you did.

    Now I'm thinking of Little Bear, written by Elsa Holmelund Minarik (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak!), where he wants to go play in the snow, so his mother keeps giving him layers of clothes to wear (hat, scarf, mittens, etc.), but he's still cold, and then she asks if he wants "a fur coat?" and when he says "yes, please," she takes everything back, and sends him out naked, and he's fine.


    Sheesh. What we got fed when we were kids (and ate up with a damned SPOON).

  • Jen(n) says:

    Cimorene – I *always* wondered about that weather advice in the BB's TV book! So glad to know I was not alone in my childhood neuroses.

  • Jen S 2.0 says:

    I am making the tackiest, most unladylike, snort-laugh noises over these. "Embarrassing Bears" and "correcty-pants faces," indeed.

    I note that I don't often get stuck in the dictionary any more, because I've become an girl. But don't let me click on one of those related links at the bottom of a Wikipedia page; three hours and 27 links later, I'll be sobbing over the previously unknown sad story of someone I never knew existed but now they are ruining my life. Trying to find out which Bee Gee is stil alive will lead me to Andy Gibb's sad story, will take me to Burials at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (wasn't he British?), makes me wonder, "Who's Orry-Kelly? And what was his mother thining naming him that?" takes me to the page for Jack Warner ("is he an actual Warner BROTHER?"), takes me to Sam Warner ("Hmmm, he died early. What happened?"), and suddenly I am in a panic because someone in history actually has died of a sinus infection, an ailment to which I am prone.

    Crazy folk? Come sit by me.

  • Jessica says:

    Ah. We haven't gotten to Too Much Junk Food yet — my mother has it, and now I'll have to pre-read it to see if it's too judgmental. But Corduroy Goes to the Doctor has, "He's grown some this year, and gained weight, too. Too many cookies, Corduroy!" I have to change that line when I read it.

  • Kim says:

    I love this thread. It's filling a lost-in-the-dictionary need for me as we speak!

    And I am snickering happily along with those of you who find the BBs…overbearing. (oh god. I'm sorry, I really am.) I worked in the children's section of a bookstore for years, and had to keep a huge spinning rack of Berenstains stocked; seeing them all at once really worked my last nerve. The Berenstain Bears and Another Smugly Imparted Life Lesson!

  • Anlyn says:

    Jen S 2.0 – same thing happens to me at TV Tropes, Snopes, and ESPECIALLY

  • Lily P. says:

    Jennifer Garner and Conan O'Brien school each other on the snuck vs. sneaked issue:

  • Soph says:

    @Sarah D. Bunting — Nice! I always thought Garner needed more cites to "Raising Arizona."

  • Lisa says:

    I just read an article about this the other day. In the intro, he mentions that snuck is not a word.

  • Emma says:

    Anlyn, same here. Tvtropes and Cracked in particular seem very deviously designed to promote smooth link-hopping. I don't even let myself get started on them anymore.

  • Leslie says:

    So on a related note of possible overcorrection, what about "pled guilty" vs "pleaded guilty". Pleaded sounds awkward to my ear, but they always use it on NPR, so I am assuming it is correct.

  • JB says:

    Which is worse, being the kid who reads the dictionary for fun, or being the kid that everyone assumes would read a dictionary for fun?

    …I was both, but in my defense, I was a juggernaut in the district spelling bee.

  • cayenne says:

    *Sits next to Jen S 2.0* Let me tell you about the time I got to following links in Wikipedia for hours and discovered that the Sith had invaded and taken over the Gilbert & Marshall Islands. Yes, really.

    I mean, you know why they picked them – who the hell looks at the Gilberts?

    Ahem. Someone who needed to settle an argument on the progression of the Pacific island-hopping campaign. I was reduced my print books, y'all.

  • Kristin says:

    @Cimorene – I LOVE how your mind works. And the best part is that we, as children, never questioned that the BEARS could have a house, and a TV and READ and shit, just the minutiae. :-)

    That being said, everytime I see those toilet paper commercials, I think, "man, the Berenstein Bears. Victims of the economy." That's them, right?

  • Rachel says:

    I am no stranger to the WikiTunnelling, Jen S 2.0! It starts out with "when was Margaret Thatcher elevated to Baroness" and ends somewhere in the neighborhood of the Dionne quintuplets with a weird detour into "non-food things made with teff."

    Oh, internet.

  • Amy says:

    I love you all. I read voraciously as a teen, including the dictionary, and endured much chiding from my peers as a result.

    Yes, I was "the kid who uses big words" and also a spelling bee contender.

    Where were you all when I was 12?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Amy: Playing Wizardry, UH DUH.

  • Erin W says:

    I actually have fond memories of the Berenstein Bears. To this day, I vividly remember the one about strangers, when Mama Bear takes an apple that's all red and smooth on the outside, then cuts it open and it's full of worms, and explains to the kids that sometimes people are like this too, you can't tell what they are like on the inside looking at them on the outside. 6-year-old mind: BLOWN. Stranger danger: learned.

    If they have gotten overtly Christian in the meantime, that's a different thing, I won't buy them for my nephews. (Younger one turned two this December, and one of my bro-in-law's older relatives bought him a book about being a baby in a womb that is SO overtly anti-choice that my sister and I were screaming with laughter reading it.)

  • Katie L. says:

    @Rebecca, I just reread both "Gone-Away" books, like, last week! The gift of a "solar topee" to Uncle Pin happens in Return to Gone-Away; Portia and Julian find one in the attic of the Villa Caprice.

    I adore those books, and I should have known that a fellow Vine reader would know them, too!

  • erikagillian says:

    Tvtropes calls those wiki-walks. And refers to the 'pedia as 'that other wiki.' There's an app for android phones for tvtropes, luckily I don't have a good signal in my bedroom or I'd never get up.

    I used to be one of those fast readers, and just assumed the meanings of words from context. I usually couldn't remember them long enough to look them up. But then I got a kindle. I look up everything. I'm using the OED mostly because it works better for the English books I've been reading. But I can spend hours just wandering from word to word. The origins of words are my favorite right now.

  • Krista says:

    WIZARDRY! Ahhhhhhh! (Now I want to play…)

  • Jill says:

    I've read the BB "Too Much TV" about 20 times in the past month – 4year old granddaughter LOVES it. Last weekend though, when Mama said to stick your hand out the window to check the weather, precious GD said "or he could just use his I-phone, duh".

  • Brigdh says:

    "Sola topi" is relatively common in Indian English, but I too had never heard the term until I started working here in India. (Also, it's pretty self-evident in Hindi: "topi" is just "hat"). This is despite that fact that pretty much no one actually wears sola topis anymore; they're heavily looked down on as one of the most obvious symbols of colonialism. If I'm remembering my history correctly, Gandhi started that, using the act of wearing (or not) a sola topi as a way of identifying your stance on independence.

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