“Text” or “texted”?

In family conversation recently someone said, “I hate it when people say ‘I texted her yesterday. It should be text”.

As a former teacher of various linguistics courses I had to resist the temptation to go into lecturer mode – prescriptive v. descriptive attitudes, misguided notions of “correctness” in language and grammar, etc. (This is not a temptation I’m noted for resisting, but hey, this was family.)

I always say “texted”, on the grounds that the simple past tense in regular verbs (if there is such a thing) is usually (but not always!) formed by adding –ed. The nearest equivalent I can think of is “test, tested” and all those other verbs that end –est in the present tense form.

English language is so inconsistent and full of exceptions, however, that it’s not a clincher to point to parallels with which to assimilate (compare ‘live/lived’, ‘give/gave’ and ‘dive/dived’ – or should that be ‘dove’?!)

What if “next” were used as a verb (which it isn’t, but all English syntax is more flexible, especially in informal, conversational use, than pedants like to believe – put that in your clay pipe and smoke it, Jacob Rees-Mogg, in your monocle and plus-fours)? I think I’d say “I nexted her” – ok, not impossible, if one thinks of the innovative ‘verbing’ and nominalisation of the conjunction “but” in ‘but me not buts’ – as first used in an obscure text of 1709, but made popular by Scott in The Antiquary (1816) – not Shakespeare, as is often asserted; so one could imagine ‘next me no nexts’ (imperative). Just a short step from there to: ‘I nexted her’, ie I used “next” as a verb to her some time in the past. I don’t think I’d say ‘I next her’.

I would have turned to David Crystal for insight into or clarification of this problem; I’m sure his book on the language of the internet/IT would have covered it (he’s a big fan of the playful inventiveness of text message language, for example, though this is largely outdated now by the ubiquity of smartphones), but I donated my copy to my college English dept when I finished teaching there this summer – I’m now officially retired (well, made redundant, but that’s another story).

A quick online search found that this “text” v. “texted” is a common language question.

Chicago Manual of Style Online:

Texted is correct. Adding ed is the standard way to make a verb past tense, so with a new verb like text, that’s the default. With increased usage, a nonstandard past tense could eventually establish itself, but until then, use the standard verb form.

At OED online (edited) entry on ‘text’ as a verb:

Now rare.

1.  A.  transitive. To inscribe, write, or print in a text-hand or in capital or large letters. Also figurativeObsolete.

1600    Shakespeare Much Ado about Nothing  v. i. 179 [this is Claudio speaking]   Yea and text vnder-neath, here dwells Benedick the married man.

1607    T. Dekker Whore of Babylon sig. I4   Vowes haue I writ so deepe,..So texted them in characters capitall, I cannot race them.

1621    J. Fletcher et al.  Trag. of Thierry & Theodoret  ii. i. sig. D1   Condemne me, for A most malicions [sic] slanderer: nay, texdeit Vpon my forehead.

1624    T. Heywood Γυναικεῖον  vii. 315   That such as..past.. might read them as perfectly and distinctly, as if they had beene textedin Capitall Letters.

[My note: That Shakespearean usage is interesting; it looks to me, in context, that it’s the future form, for Claudio characteristically continues the chaffing at Benedick’s expense, started in the previous speech by Don Pedro: ‘But when shall we set the savage bull’s horns on the sensible Benedick’s head?’ i.e. ‘[when shall we] text underneath…’; so, not the past tense. Interestingly, those citations from Dekker, Fletcher and Heywood all have the –ted ending. But this is a different semantic sense from the modern ‘messaging’, so not really comparable. But it does at least establish that the –ted ending was considered acceptable at that time.]

 [OED] Draft additions March 2004 to ‘text’ as verb: transitiveTelecommunications. To send (a text message) to a person, mobile phone, etc.; to send a text message to. Also intransitive: to communicate by sending text messages…

2001    Leicester Mercury (Electronic ed.) 31 July   I texted my mother and my friends when I got my results.

Hardly a canonical citation, but worthy of note.

OED also has:

texted, adj.

Obsolete.

  1. Skilled or learned in ‘texts’ or authors. rare.(In this sense texted wel (v.r. text wel) appears in one group of Chaucer MSS., where another has textuel. The latter was probably the original reading, but the change in some MSS. perhaps implies that texted was known.)

14..    Chaucer’s Manciple’s T. (Harl.) 131   But for I am a man not texted wel [so Corp.; Lansd. texed, Petworth text; 3 MSS. textuel] I wil not telle of textes neuer a del.

14..    Chaucer’s Manciple’s T. 212   But as I sayd, I am nought tixted wel [Corp., Petworth, Lansd. text; 3 MSS. textuel, -eel, tixt-].

2. Written in text-hand or text-letters; engrossed.

1620    T. Dekker Dreame sig. A2   They beg nothing, the Texted Past-bord talkes all; and if nothing be giuen, nothing is spoken.

1695    London Gaz. No. 3125/4   Texted Indentures for Attorneys.

To sum up: most people defend their usage of one or other of these forms, “text” or “texted”, by saying: ‘it just sounds right’. Each to his (or her) own, I say. Let’s just not be prescriptive or pedantic about it.

Share on Facebook and Twitter

8 thoughts on ““Text” or “texted”?

  1. Texted – definitely! I’m a bit pendantic about language sometimes, though I try not to be. But I get really worked up about apostrophes, and “text” is far too close to the Suffolk dialect for my comfort zone (my eldest child still cringes about a lady with a local accent who always said “shew” instead of “showed” – shudder….)

  2. I say ‘texted’ but pronounce it ‘textd’ rather than ‘text-ed’. Many people at work say ‘inputted’ rather than ‘input’ which seems clumsy to me.

    • It’s always tricky when technology introduces new requirements on the language – an accepted norm takes a while to set in. What’s the plural of ‘mouse’ (as in computer peripherals) for example? Style guides suggest ‘mouses’, not ‘mice’. But like ‘inputted’ this can ‘sound strange’

  3. It’s a while ago now, but I haven’t forgotten being corrected for something I wrote on my professional blog that used the past tense of the noun-turned-verb ‘to conference’. He (somewhat pompously) reminded me that ‘conference’ was a noun and could not form a past tense.
    Well, I was too busy to argue about it then. But gone are the days when school students handed in a piece of writing done just once, now they are expected to re-read it, and revise it, with a peer and then a teacher in a ‘conference’ about the work. The verb ‘to conference’ emerged, and so did its past tense ‘I/you/he/she conferenced the work’. We can argue about whether this process has the desired effect on student writing, but the verb ‘to conference’ seems to be here to stay.
    Clumsy, yes. Ugly, yes. But in a school setting it held meaning not conveyed by ‘discussed’ because there were specific steps that even small children were expected to follow i.e. read to see if it makes sense, to see if it expresses what was intended; then read for punctuation, and finally check the spelling. ‘To conference’ meant to attend to all these steps, and ‘Did you conference with a friend before bringing this work to me?’ was my stern warning to author and friend that they were both in trouble if they hadn’t attended to stray apostrophes and whatever because notwithstanding a noun-turned-verb — I was a stickler for grammar!

    • Being a stickler for grammar is fine, but usage in speech particularly is so fluid, the lines get blurred – it’s changing constantly. One more example, probably entering British English from the USA: ‘to impact’ as a transitive verb, as in ‘this will impact the economy‘. The tendency to use nouns as verbs has a long history; your example is one of many. The world of business is especially fond of this kind of change: to ‘action’ something, etc. Not all of these ugly novelties are grammatical – there are fixed expressions that creep in, like politicians and broadcasters using ‘going forward’ tautologically or unnecessarily. How else does a future projection or prediction function?! When I hear these clichés I flinch, and keep going forward…

      • Thankfully, the phrase ‘going forward’ is being used less now but people keep trying to pre-warn me or pre-plan something. I find it interesting when we (including myself) start to use words and phrases just because others do. I tell others just to warn me and not to bother pre-warning me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *