The usual and sound writing advice is to avoid mixing metaphors. But when the occasion is right, rules should be broken. And a Kentucky judge has done a mighty fine job here of smashing the rule. Which prove that, in writing, sometimes the heart should trump the head.
Take a break from that bad legal writing you’re duty-bound to read. Take a look at this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winners. And the next time you write a horrible figure of speech, make sure it’s on purpose. (Hat tip to John McIntyre.)
In a recent post, Have you proven your case?, I expressed rare disagreement with Bryan Garner about using proven as the past participle of prove. Garner’s Modern American Usage (3d ed. 2009) has this to say about that:
Proved has long been the preferred past participle of prove. But proven often ill-advisedly appears . . . .
. . . .
In AmE, proven, like stricken, properly exists only as an adjective . . . .
Prompted by Mike’s comment to that post, I did some research to support my disagreement with Bryan. I found support in the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED quotes numerous examples of proven used as a past participle, including this one dated 1957:
B. Evans & C. Evans Dict. Contemp. Amer. Usage 399/1 The participle proven is respectable literary English. In the United States it is used more often than the form proved. In Great Britain proved is used more often and proven sounds affected to many people.
The OED’s etymology for prove includes this paragraph about proven:
The past participle proven . . . is at least as common as proved in current North American English. It is also spreading into other varieties of English, in which the highest proportion of occurrences appears to occur in the past and perfect passive.
The OED gives the following definition of prove with accompanying comment on proven:
I. To demonstrate, establish.
1. trans. To establish as true; to make certain; to demonstrate the truth of by evidence or argument.
In this sense the past participle proven (orig. Sc.) is often used. In Sc. Law the verdict ‘Not proven’ is admitted, besides ‘Guilty’ and ‘Not guilty’, in criminal trials.
So what do you think, folks? Have I proven that proven is a proper past participle in American English?
p.s. The New Oxford American Dictionary (2005) says this:
USAGE For complex historical reasons, prove developed two past participles: proved and proven. Both are correct and can be use more or less interchangeably . . . . Proven is the more common form when used as an adjective before the noun it modifies . . . . Otherwise, the choice between proved and proven is not a matter of correctness, but usually of sound and rhythm—and often, consequently, a matter of familiarity, as in the legal idiom innocent until proven guilty.
A day or two ago, I was asked to review a draft brief. I was on the road, with a laptop but without a printer, so I reviewed the brief on the computer screen. Today I printed out a copy of the same brief, and noticed some areas where the formatting could be improved—areas that I did not notice when reviewing on the computer screen.
One of these days, all of our legal writing will be designed for reading on the computer screen. But today, much of it is still designed for reading on paper. As was this brief, which will be filed on paper. So if the intended audience will be reading it on paper, then at some point in the editing, you must print it out. This is the only way that you will see exactly what the reader will see. And if you don’t see exactly what the reader will see, you may miss something.
p.s. For prior posts on formatting and typography, click here.
This is a rare occasion that I beg to differ with Bryan Garner. Does anyone detect a usage error in the headline? According to Garner’s Modern American Usage, proven as a past participle is “ill-advised[ ]”:
“Proved”" has long been the preferred past participle of “prove.” But “"proven” often ill-advisedly appears ....
In American English, “proven,” like “stricken,” properly exists only as an adjective ....
“Proven” has survived as a past participle in legal usage in two phrases: first, in the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”; second, in the verdict “Not proven,” a jury answer no longer widely used except in Scots law....