Sunday, September 16, 2012

Thought vs. Thunk: Irregular or Ignorant?

Yesterday's post on swam vs. swum sparked a bit of interest in irregular verbs. This morning on Twitter, @KKHaviland asked about dreamed vs. dreamt. Then, also via Twitter, @GrammarROCKS joined in with some irregular-verb humor. Yes, there is such a thing. Apparently.

Meanwhile, I also received this e-mail from Kyle:
What about thunk? Is it a word? I've definitely heard people say thunk and I've even read it, but I'm not confident that it's really a word.
Go with those instincts, Kyle. I've heard people say thunk, too. But consider where it originated.

The phrase Who'd a thunk it? was coined way back in the 1930s and '40s by Mortimer Snerd, a ventriloquist dummy voiced by vaudeville star Edgar Bergen. Mortimer was a likeable character, but buck-toothed, slow-witted, and famous for saying, "Duhhh." You can connect the dots.

Imperfect and downright bad grammar is used all the time, and often to great effect, in literature, music and film. Artistic license gives authors and screenwriters permission to bend grammar rules, especially when writing dialogue. My favorite quote from Kathryn Stockett's wonderful novel, The Help, is: "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." The moment would be far less powerful if Aibileen's grammar were correct.

There are also numerous idiomatic expressions that use bad grammar, but which are so well-established that we repeat them without fearing criticism. We collectively understand that it's bad grammar, and that makes it okay. For instance, we don't say If it isn't broken, don't fix it because the expression is If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The word 'ain't' is acceptable only because the saying is so ingrained in our culture.

The same goes for thunk, in my opinion. The expression is Who'da thunk it?, not Who'd have thought it? But outside of that particular wording, be careful about using thunk.

Quick rules:
  • Think is an irregular verb. I think. I thought. I had thought.
  • Never use thunk in a school essay, job application, or any other serious document where you are aiming to impress. Like 'ain't', thunk may cause people to wonder about your intelligence.
  • There's an established idiom around Who'da thunk it?, so that's fair game.


  1. I have learnt various good stuff right here, and I’m sure everyone will get advantage of it.Grammarly

    1. I have learnt?... or... I have learned?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I recall being taught when using words in the past, present and future tense, the three words, though out of order, were:
      Think, thought, thunk
      This was a private, parochial school too.

  2. There's no real future tense in English, grammatically, just verbal constructions like "I will think about it" / "I am going to think about it".


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