Thursday Grammar: Short Lived

[I have lately been noticing more and more of the most appalling errors in English grammar and usage. And not just from the president. Maybe I’m getting old and curmudgeonly. So that you are spared the embarrassment of the most … Continued

[I have lately been noticing more and more of the most appalling errors in English grammar and usage. And not just from the president. Maybe I’m getting old and curmudgeonly. So that you are spared the embarrassment of the most egregious solecisms in a post-Bush era, I offer this weekly series as a service to you.]

The phrase “short lived” is pronounced with a long i. Short LIEved, is in “having a short life”, not LIH-ved, as in “living a short time”.

Next Week: Feelng Nonplussed

14 Comments on “Thursday Grammar: Short Lived”

  1. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Cite your sources, please. I sadly no longer have access to the OED, but my Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary lists “shawrt-lihved” first and “shawrt-layvd” second. lists “shawrt-lyvvd” first but also includes “shawrt-lihved” as an acceptable pronunciation.


  2. Matthew Wrather #

    My sources are my strongly-held prejudices. The views of illiterates on pronunciation are unaccountable. Even if they write a dictionary.


  3. Matthew Wrather #

    Sorry, that was a little glib. Of course the OED agrees with me. Here is the entry, from my copy of the second edition (1991). I don’t own a third edition. I’m actually not sure it’s done.

    short-lived (short lyevd) adj. also spelled short-lif’d. [f. short (adj) + live, LIFE + -ED(2). Often apprehended as f. lived pa. pple. of LIVE v. (cf. smooth-spoken) and pronounced (-livd)].

    Which is to say, the OED makes the point I make, which is that the mispronunciation is due to an (erroneous) folk etymology.

    As to citations, the phrase appears twice in Love’s Labors Lost, in the second and fourth acts, first literally — “Such short liu’d wits do wither as they grow” (2.1.54) — and then metaphorically, which the OED treats as a different sense in its definitions — “O short liu’d pride” (4.1.15).

    There are senses having to do with metallurgy and radioactive isotopes. The unfortunate phrase “short-livedness” was committed to print in the 19th century.


  4. NB #

    Not where I come from it isn’t.


  5. Alec Harkness #

    I’ve gotta say, I’ve never heard “short-lived” pronounced to rhyme with “arrived”, and it’s a common phrase. Even the BBC pronounce it to rhyme with “give”

    Consider “lived” as in the past tense of “to live”. It never rhymes with “arrived”. So I can legitimately say I lived well, or I lived long (and prospered). If I lived long, I was long-lived. If I didn’t live long, I was short-lived.

    Hmmm, actually when I read that back I think I see the problem. “Long” and “short” are adjectives, not adverbs. My life can be long, but I cannot correctly live long.

    This would suggest that the correct phrase would be “short lifed”, but I don’t think that’s correct either.

    I think I may have over-thought myself…

    The original point remains though. I have never heard it pronounced any other way.


  6. Gab #

    Mmm, grammar. Anyone ever hear the one about the panda?


  7. Pianodan #

    Everyone’s heard the one about the panda.


  8. Mathias #

    This is one of my pet peeves. Precisely because “long” and “short” are adjectives, they modify the noun “life”, not the verb “live”. I have heard it pronounced “lyevd”, and every time I do, it makes me smile :)


  9. Gab #

    Oh oh oh, and I just thought of another subject for one of these: “In spite” versus “despite.” I’ve even had English teachers that can’t help me with that one.


  10. John E #

    Many people are basing their opinions on the fact that “long” and “short” are adjectives and not adverbs. They are both. It is perfectly acceptable to ask someone how long they have lived in the city, for example. It is not necessary to ask them, “for what period of time…”

    I can live with either pronunciation, because honestly I think the intention can either be “had a short life” or “lived for a short period of time.”

    Now, of course, we must wonder if the rule about adjectives ending with -ed, i.e. blessed, learned, wretched, etc. Something to think about.


  11. Brad #

    Oh prescriptivists, you guys kill me. Linguistics should be studied and discussed in a descriptive way. In other words, stop trying to tell people how to talk correctly. Language is constantly evolving.


  12. David #

    Etymology is not determinative of correctitude in all cases. American Heritage rightly points out that “short-lived” with a short “i” has become so commonplace as to be acceptable to most of its usage panel. Usage doesn’t sweep aside all other considerations either, but in this case, despite the prejudices of the blogger, there is no reason for holding out, let alone for characterizing all those who adopt the normal pronunciation as “illiterate.” Reserve the firepower for true illiteracies.


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