Crowing

The One Big Happy from April 25th:

(Tick-Tocket’s Chicken Crew seems to be a children’s book invented for this cartoon. But the title is plausible.)

Library Lady asks abut the noun crew, Ruthie (who often marches to the beat of her own drummer) responds with crew, a PST form of the verb crow — and then goes on to conjugate

crow (BSE/PRS), crew (PST), crown (PSP)

The compound chicken crew in the book title appears (from the cover illustration) to refer to a crew of chickens, rather than, say a crew of people who deal with chickens (raising them, plucking them, cooking them, whatever). So probably sense 2a from the NOAD entry:

noun crew:  [treated as singular or plural] 1 [a] a group of people who work on and operate a ship, boat, aircraft, spacecraft, or train.[b] a group of people working on a ship, aircraft, etc. other than the officers: the ship’s captain and crew may be brought to trial. [c] US the sport of rowing a racing shell. 2 [a] a group of people who work closely together: an ambulance crew | crews of firefighters from neighboring towns were called in. [b] informal, often derogatory a group of people associated in some way: a crew of assorted computer geeks. [c] informal, chiefly US a group of rappers, breakdancers, or graffiti artists performing or operating together.

(But I’m charmed by the image of chickens working on trains, boats, or planes. Cue Bacharach/David. And even more by the image of breakdancing chickens. Cue Sandra Boynton.)

Now, the conjugation of the verb crow ‘to utter the loud cry of a cock’ (OED2). What came first to my mind was this Biblical passage:

Mark 14:72 (KJV): And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.

Yes, the cock crew. More modern translations have the past of crow regularized to crowed. In fact, crow was once a proudly “strong” (irregular) verb of English, with the forms

BSE/PRS /kro/, PST /kru/ or /kraw/ or /kro/, PSP /krawn/ or /kron/

So Ruthie’s crow crew crown is right on the mark, if we’re talking about before the 15th century. At that point, regular forms sweep the day.

OED2’s list of forms, showing this development (but all in the spellings found in the texts, so this takes some interpretation):

Forms:  Pa. tense crew /kruː/, crowed. pa. pple. crowed, [crown /krəʊn/]. Forms: OE–ME crawan, crawen, ME–16 crowe, ME– crow; north.ME–15 crau, (krau), ME crawe, ME– craw. pa. tense OE–ME creow, ME creuȝ, ME cru, ME–15 creu, ME crwe, ME creew, ME–15 crewe, krew, ME– crew; also 15– crowed. pa. pple. (OE crawen), ME crowe(n), 16 crowne, (18 crown); north.15 crawin, 17 crawn; 15– crowed.

The actual regularization takes some time; it spreads over time through social networks. As we can see in the history of the verb dive, which was once thoroughly irregular, but has been regularizing, with only PST dove remaining as a relic in some North American and English dialects (I’m partial to it myself).

 

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