Showed up

Adrian Bailey wrote me this morning about a headline in the Times (of London) from 16 April:

Paula and Noorul showed up on The Apprentice

(Paula and Noorul are competitors on the television show The Apprentice.) Bailey, blogging under the name Dadge, balked at the headline, taking it to be an error:

Nice of them to show up

… Oh dear. Could The Times be running their headlines through some naff commercially available grammar checker? (link)

In fact, the Times headline is ambiguous. The two relevant interpretations have showed as a past participle in transitive show up (the interpretation the headline writer intended) and as a past tense in intransitive show up (the interpretation Bailey got). I’m supposing that Bailey dislikes showed as a past participle (preferring shown instead), so that the second interpretation is the one most easily available to him. The usage facts about the past participle turn out to have some interesting twists, though.

First, the relevant meanings for show up in OED2:

transitive: ‘to disgrace or discredit by a thorough exposure; to exhibit as an impostor or an imposture; to expose (a person’s faults, ignorance, misdeeeds, etc.)’

intransitive (marked as colloquial): ‘to put in an appearance; to be present or ‘turn up’ (at an appointed time or place)’

Now, the usage facts about the past participle of show. MWDEU says that showed (as well as shown) can be used as a past participle, saying:

Such usage is entirely correct; the past participle shewed dates from the 14th century, showed from the 15th. Showed occurs too frequently to be considered rare but is less common than shown. Usage commentators generally acknowledge that showed as a past participle is standard, but they recommend using shown instead.

That last sentence is the first twist: commentators admit that past participle showed is standard but nevertheless tell people to used shown. I’m guessing that this attitude represents some residual prejudice against regularization of “strong verbs”.

But there’s another twist, which MWDEU doesn’t mention, though Garner’s Modern American Usage does. 

Recall that English past participle verb forms have two very different functions: in perfects (“I have finished the project”) and in passives (“The project was finished by the staff”). For Garner (p. 723), this functional difference is important:

Showed is less good than shown as the past participle. And in the passive voice, shown is mandatory.

This of course is Garner’s personal judgment — one that Bailey might well share. (I myself don’t much care for showed in passives.) The Times headline is, after all, intended to have a passive construction in it.

I find it hard to imagine how a grammar checker could have resulted in showed in this head (though some grammar checkers might replace past participle showed by shown; mine doesn’t, but some might). Much more likely, to my mind, is that regularizing the past participle of show has extended for some people to passives as well as perfects. Regularization marches on.

3 Responses to “Showed up”

  1. dadge Says:

    Interesting. I thought of grammar checkers because of their distaste for the passive. Adrian

  2. The Ridger Says:

    But the grammar checker would only warn you that you have a passive. It wouldn’t suggest what ended up there.

    This is interesting… I’m well aware that many verbs have a different “adjectival” form derived from the passive, even if it’s only in pronunciation (blesséd vs. blessed, for instance) but I hadn’t noticed that “show” is regular one way and not the other – even though I’m fairly sure I don’t say “he was showed up”.

  3. mollymooly Says:

    The -t/-ed variants (spilled/spilt, etc) show different relative frequencies in different subuses — adjective, passive, attributive, predicative — on top of the better-known US/UK variance.

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