Broadcast(ed) and forecast(ed)

Posted by on August 18, 2014

© PhotoDisc / Getty ImagesChildren learning language for the first time tend to regularise irregular verbs, saying things like ‘I goed’ instead of ‘I went’ and ‘we runned’ instead of ‘we ran’. If English inflection were more consistent, these utterances would be normal practice, not errors – though it’s worth noting that children may be more aware of words’ irregularity than we give them credit for.

But it’s not just children who over-apply grammatical patterns: grown-ups do it too. And when we do it enough, it can become acceptable through usage. Take this line from Scott Smith’s novel A Simple Plan: ‘If it were to snow, as it was forecasted to, it would be wet and sloppy.’ Or the line in Marshall Stearns’s Story of Jazz which refers to bands of the American south west who ‘broadcasted over the radio’.

Most people use the shorter, uninflected past-tense forms forecast and broadcast, just as we say an actor was cast in a role, not *casted. Forecasted and broadcasted surged in popularity in the first half of the 20th century, but they are now minority usages. Are they permissible? The short answer is yes, with a caveat.

Robert Burchfield said broadcasted ‘cannot be said to be wrong’, while the Columbia Guide to Standard American English calls it ‘standard’, and allows both. This tolerance is not universal, however, with other authorities stipulating forecast and broadcast as past tense and past participle. Some critics prefer there to be a single word in a given niche, and find any kind of lexical surplus objectionable. Ambrose Bierce, for instance, found forecasted ‘abominable’ and Fowler called it ‘ugly’. Bryan Garner flatly calls forecasted and broadcasted ‘incorrect’.

Irregular verbs may seem lawless and random, but they follow sub-rules and patterns of their own. Forecast and broadcast arose by adding a prefix to cast, and so the argument goes that we shouldn’t say forecasted or broadcasted any more than we would say *casted. But people who choose them may be verbing the nouns forecast and broadcast, independent of the cast–cast–cast paradigm. This would give them more licence to add the -ed suffix. As Steven Pinker writes in Words and Rules, “the noun [broadcast] is far more frequent than the verb and may feel more basic”.

I asked on Twitter what people used, and if they had any strong feelings about it. Most prefer the short forms, and some dislike the longer forms. But a few said they habitually use broadcasted and forecasted, or at least one of them, and that’s fine too – there’s no need to change what sounds right to you.

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