Saturday, May 17, 2008

Said determinative

Said is most commonly the past tense of say, but as a past participle, it became used in legal writing to refer to something that was mentioned previously (also aforesaid). Gradually, this became an adjective:
It is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said, William Jefferson Clinton, be and he hereby is acquitted of the charges in the said articles.

Although it is positively commonplace for words to change their meaning, often expanding into other categories (e.g., verbing), it is much less common that they change categories completely, and quite rare for them to move into one of the so-called "closed classes". That, however, appears to be what said is doing. Though British usage overwhelmingly favours said as an adjective, American usage tends to do away with the article the:

  • Soon he made out a round door no higher than a child of three, and no wider than said child lying sideways.

  • You'll recall taking a letter in which I accepted a position on the Laningham commission? Well, I received word in return inviting me to the first meeting of said commission today at four.

In such cases, said has been reanalysed as a determinative, though admittedly a marginal one. Most members of this class function readily in partitive constructions:

  • some of the water
  • many of the people
  • each of the books

Said, of course, does not.

Now, I'm not claiming that this is all that new. It could have been around for a few hundred years even. But most grammars and dictionaries, including the OED, give only examples as adjective. Nor am I claiming that the determinative is completely driving out the adjective for everyone who uses it. For me, however, coming across this issue being discussed on the English Wiktionary was a bit of a shock because I had never realised that anybody said the said.

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