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April 10, 2018

I’m re-reading some tales by Edgar Allan Poe, and in ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ came across the following enjoyable sentence (describing a large ebony clock): ‘Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical…’

the hour was to be stricken: Here is a use of the old past participle of strike which is seldom heard today. In fact I wonder if it was in common use even when Poe wrote the story, in 1842; he was fond of archaisms. Anyway there seems to be a general law that irregular past participles do eventually become obsolete, and the simple past tense (in this case, struck) used in their place – especially when the verb is not a very common one.

The usage survives in one or two specific expressions even today; it would sound perhaps a tad old-fashioned but not completely strange to say that one had been stricken down by an illness, or was stricken with remorse over something. But it would sound very odd to say, for instance, that someone had stricken a match to light the barbecue, or the university unions have stricken over the issue of pensions.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    It’s still used in legal matters, “stricken from the record” and in shipping , “stricken vessel” but still seems to be more commonly used in America.

  2. Ah – thank you.

  3. Craig permalink

    Hi Brandon. This made me smile. Straight after reading your post i read this article on a modern gaming site…… Spooky! Can you spot it? (In reference to Simons comment the site is American)

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