A sneaky word

A few months ago I randomly encountered an online article which used

snook

as the past tense of 

sneak. 

A few weeks ago I randomly encountered the same article again. I didn’t save the article and I can’t find it now. It was about some people who “snook into a stadium” or “into a football match”. I asked my Facebook friends, and those who responded said “mistake”, “… unless the author is using similar linguistic devices throughout” (which I don’t remember was the case) “an Americanism, like snuck” (possibly; there was no particular indication that the writer was American) and “mistake”.

Snuck (use it or not (I don’t), like it or not (I don’t)) is here to stay (and is already used more than sneaked in US English, and almost as much in British English). Snook is either a mistake or a very rare alternative. Searching for snook by itself finds mostly irrelevant results for people with that surname, fish or a town in Texas. But then

“No, you got all sneaky and snuck around and snook that vote away from me. And I know this because earlier I sneaked and snooked around and Jammy was supposed to vote for me. The snooker has become the snort.” Leslie Knope to Ron Swanson

I recognise the names as characters from Parks and Recreation (which I have never seen). So writers of tv comedies can use it. (Writers of tv comedies can do a lot of things.) Note snooked. I assume that snooker is pronounced similarly and not like the table-balls-and-cue sport.

Searching for “snook into” found a few uses, for example “someone snook into my [hotel] room” on Tripadviser and “this guy snook into [a sports stadium when it was closed]” on reddit.

Searching for “snook into a stadium” found nothing, but “snook into the stadium” found this tweet:

the streaker at the Granada vs Manchester United game, snook into the stadium at around 7am”, But that is an auto-translation from German: der Flitzer beim Spiel Granada gegen Manchester United gegen 7 Uhr morgens ins Stadion geschlichen ist 

With snuck and sneaked to choose from, I can’t see why any auto-translator would be programmed to use snook

But I still need a genuine use of snook. I don’t know how I found it, but luckily I saved the URL. From the BBC, no less: 

Zoe snook into rehearsals to catch up with Patrick and Anya and Fiona and Anton. 

I assume that the BBC has a style guide and that snook isn’t in it. In fact, I assume that snuck isn’t in it, either. I’ll venture that no style guide so much as mentions snook in this sense, whatever it might say about snuck and sneaked. I’ll get proscriptive and say “Don’t use snook. People will question your intelligence and/or ability in English” (unless you are a writer of a tv comedy). In fact, I’ll say “Don’t use snuck“, but most people will ignore me.

The rise of snuck is relatively recent. Most discussions date it to the late 19th century, but Google Ngrams shows its rise from the late 1990s. Sneaked has risen at the same time, in part because people are using it to compare and contrast with snuck. Have we spent more time sneaking in the last 25 years?

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Extraordinarily unique

Wikipedia’s article on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan quotes “US officials” describing it as “extraordinarily unique”.

Some style guides advise or prescribe against any modification of unique. Either something is the only one of its kind, or it’s not. It can’t be (for example) very unique. While modifying unique is probably best avoided in formal contexts, there can be no doubt that many people say or write it informally and normally. Google Ngram Viewer shows not (by far the most common), very, as, most, so, quite, rather, somewhat, almost and probably unique. Some of these are (probably) more acceptable, and others less so. 

Extraordinarily unique isn’t on Ngrams’ top 10 results (its usage is about one-tenth that of probably unique), but a general Google search shows about 391,000 results, starting with blind auditions on The Voice, the Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Villa Bismarck on Capri.  


It might just be possible to describe something as extraordinarily unique if it’s extraordinary as well as unique – a whole level more unique than anything else. Australia has many unique animals, but the platypus is extraordinary. Anyone familiar with jerboas will accept the kangaroo, but when the first samples of dead platypuses (?platypi, ??platypodes) arrived in England, the experts there thought someone here was playing a practical joke on them. But “except for its size and exaggerated security measures,” Bin Laden’s compound “itself did not stand out architecturally from others in the neighbourhood.”

Contractions

The legal writing guide of a mid-level university states “Do not use contractions in your academic writing, Using contractions can give your writing an informal or colloquial tone, which is not appropriate.”  Unfortunately, one of its examples, alongside can’t, shan’t (who writes shan’t anyway?), they’re, wouldn’t and it’s, is o’clock, which is a contraction of of the clock. So don’t use o’clock in your academic writing; use of the clock instead.

That said, contractions are generally avoided in academic writing, but some contractions are now standard. Google Ngram shows that o’clock is about 200 times as common as of the clock. I suspect that no-one actually uses of the clock; they just mention it in the course of talking about the origin of o’clock.

Talking about contractions, the conductor of one of the choirs I sing in told us that the soprano soloist for a recent concert has just had a baby … after 62 hours of labour.

Effective English

… more important than so-called good English [is] effective English. English that clearly, strongly and unambiguously ‐ unless you’ve a penchant for ambiguity – conveys from writers’ brains through their typing fingers and onward to the imaginations of their readers what it is that writers are attempting to communicate.

Benjamin Dreyer is “is vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief, of Random House”. He has just released a book called Dreyer’s English AN UTTERLY CORRECT GUIDE TO CLARITY AND STYLE, which I am neither endorsing nor not endorsing. I am less likely to buy it after finding myself described as a “godless savage”, and Dreyer obviously didn’t proofread that job title himself. And I would question three things about style in the quotation itself. But I fully endorse effective English.

Today on the Sydney Morning Herald website is this article, from which the quotation comes.

(Checks post very carefully in case there’s any mistakes: Muphry’s Law.)