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The shape of casts to come

We are at the point in our spring in Boston (never mind our snow showers the other day) when the leaves are just barely starting to come out. Rather than appearing as individual leaves, the new growth just tends to give the structure of bare branches and twigs a greenish cast against the sky.

Like the trees in spring, our language keeps producing new growth, too - as the other day, when I saw an extra syllable sprouting in the word "forecast" in a newspaper graphic.

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"Forecasted," it said. Hmm. Shouldn't that be just "forecast"? According to my dictionary, yes: It lists "forecasted" as an alternative, but clearly not a first choice.

The chart gave some solid dots of data for years of the recent past, and then certainty melted away in favor of estimates for the future. Perhaps the chartmaker felt a need for "estimated" or "projected" or some other satisfyingly three-syllable word, and ended up with "forecasted."

"Forecast" means literally "thrown forward," as does "projected," by the way.

"Cast" itself means essentially "to throw." On its own, it tends to sound biblical, in no small part because it is biblical ("He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her"). It shows up in compounds (castoffs, castaways, broadcast, forecast, simulcast) or specialized meanings or idioms (to cast doubt; the cast of a play).

But however literary it may sound, it's one of a group of very ordinary English words whose present and past tenses, as well as past participle, are all the same. Don't let the terminology rattle you: I'm talking about words like "cut" and "hit" and "shut" and "put."

There is no "cutted," or "hitted" or "shutted." And there's not supposed to be "casted." The one entry I find for "casted" at OneLook, a website that lets me compare multiple online dictionaries, gives only one dictionary with an entry for "casted," and it's in the 1828 Webster's Dictionary. And when I look it up, I'm sternly told: "Casted, pp. For cast, is not in use."

That said, "casted" is all over the Internet, on e-commerce sites selling belt buckles and bedsteads and other similar goods.

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The principle here is that familiarity and frequency of use tend to wear verbs down into irregularity. Consider the verb "to be," for instance: I am, you are, he is. Rarely used verbs tend to stay "regular."

"Forecast" and "broadcast," (originally an agricultural term) were built on "cast," back in the day when "cast" was a familiar irregular verb.

But "podcast," on the scene really only since 2004, is less anchored in the original "cast," to throw, and seems more analogous to its almost-rhyme "broadcast," at least to those who think of "broadcast" as referring to a way of scattering electronic information, rather than seed.

And so this new verb follows the regular path: I podcast, I podcasted.

I found this note, by the way, in a history of podcasting: "[B]logger and technology columnist Doc Searls began keeping track of how many 'hits' Google found for the word 'podcasts' on September 28, 2004, when the result was 24 hits. 'A year from now,' he wrote, 'it will pull up hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions.' "

As of this writing, the figure for Google hits on "podcasts" is 337 million.

This weekly column appears with links at http://weblogs.csmonitor.com/verbal_energy.


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