August 25, 2007

An interesting dilemma:

I’m writing something in which it makes sense for me to use the past tense of the verb “sleepwalk.”

The easiest approach is of course to treat “sleepwalk” as a compound verb the first element of which is a noun and the second element of which a verb, like “babysit.”

And yet “sleepwalked” looks and sounds and feels so totally wrong.

I feel an incredibly strong compulsion to understand “sleep” here as a verb, which makes no linguistic sense, since at least off the top of my head I can’t think of any compound verbs both elements of which are verbs, but still. In this theoretical idiolect I generate the past tense “slepwalked.” (I tried “sleptwalked” but that was just barbaric.)

Of course I could get around the whole problem by using “somnambulated,” but where would be the fun in that?

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17 Responses to An interesting dilemma

  1. Jess says:

    Use “sleepwalked,” stop worrying about it and move on! Just my $0.02. :)

  2. Adam875 says:

    Sleepwalked doesn’t look or sound weird to me at all. Though curiously, Apple’s dictionary lists “sleepwalker” and “sleepwalking” as derivatives but lists no past tense! If it really weirds you out, how about “sleep-walked?”

  3. lee says:

    Is the context for your use of the verb humorous? If so, I would just use sleepwalked. It sounds funny, so what the heck. Let people know you’re playing with language.

  4. Sharon says:

    sleepwalked doesn’t sound strange at all. Also, I’m pretty sure that “sleep” is indeed a noun in that compound, although even if it was somehow a verb-verb compound, only the head of the compound can carry tense, which means with or without the dash, the only grammatically correct one is “sleep-walked”.

  5. Fabio says:

    Honey, as a barbarian idiom speaker, you ARE barbaric. So you better face it, and move on. Here, in the land of Dante we don’t have such convoluted ways of expressing…only “sonnambulo”, that is “sleepwalker” and “sonnambulismo”, that is “sleepwalking”, but no “sonnambulare” (eww), that is, the verb. But, as my american ex-bf once said, italian is a dead language, because it doesn’t allow to make up new words, as english does. Alas… how I wish I was a barbarian.

  6. Rkkggg says:

    I should be as follows:

    Last night, I walked in my sleep to the kitchen and ate a lot of ham.

  7. Rkkggg says:

    Argh! Typo! I have a small child on my lap, forgive me.

    It should be as follows:

    Last night, I walked in my sleep to the kitchen and ate a lot of ham.

  8. Signalite says:

    Because it’s fun to torture people into trying to say “somnambulated”, of course.

  9. Joe R says:

    Don’t worry about it. Any word can be verbed.

  10. Chuggle says:

    I’m afraid I agree with all of the above… it must be sleepwalked (or sleep walked) as sleep has become an adverb in this context… sleep=adverb; walked=verb. By the way, a hyphen is not advised as it’s not actually a compound word.
    Or just use somnambulated, which I personally think is a much under-utilised word!

  11. TED says:

    While my argument, under harsh questioning, would collapse like a house of cards, I contend that “clusterfuck” can be a compound verb made up of two other verbs: “I somnambulated to the sex club, where we clusterfucked until dawn. I was sore until Tuesday.”

  12. henry says:

    You should brand it. Isn’t it Ambien that causes people to walk in their sleep? You could say you ambiened. Or lunestaed, although that looks Swedish somehow.

  13. David says:

    I’d say you have way too much time on your hands, but you actually have far too little.

  14. raph says:

    evidently, you weren’t paying attention in morphology class where one learns that the internal structure of compound words is invisible to inflectional morphology.

  15. Daniel says:

    One must take ones courage in ones hand and resist these compulsions.
    A steely resolve will see you through.

  16. Daniel says:

    Anent number 11,
    If “cluster” is used as a verb, shouldn’t the past tense be “clusteredfucked”?

  17. Anna-Liza says:

    I’m afraid I was in a similar situation once with that word. I copped out with “walked in her sleep”.

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