October 13th, 2004
Awoken or awakened? / arguably
by Barbara Wallraff
Carol Bartlett, of Hiawatha, Iowa, writes: “I am halfway through the book ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ and the author has already used the word ‘awoken’ at least four times. I was taught that there is no such word -- the proper word is ‘awakened.’ Am I mistaken?”
Dear Carol: “Awoken” is just unusual, not wrong. It’s one of two possible past participles of the verb “awake,” the other one being “awaked,” which is even more unusual. The past participle is, of course, the form we’re supposed to use with “have” or “has” or “had.” And that’s the way it is used on the very first page of “The Da Vinci Code,” where this appears: “‘Monsieur Langdon?’ a man’s voice said. ‘I hope I have not awoken you?’”
Judith B. Glad, of Portland, Ore., writes: “Local radio announcers say ‘So-and-so is arguably the best ...’ or something to that effect. I’ve checked my dictionaries, and they agree that it should be ‘inarguably,’ but maybe I’m missing a shift in the language.
Dear Judith: Which dictionaries are you using, please? At least the current editions of three popular ones -- the American Heritage, Webster’s New World and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate -- include “arguably.” They say the word means “as can be supported by argument” or the like. Calling someone “arguably today’s most skillful writer” means that’s the opinion of the person saying so, who is aware that others will disagree. Calling someone “inarguably the most skillful” says that anyone who disagrees is wrong. I know that “arguably” is not everyone’s favorite word, because a number of people have written me about it -- but it’s a useful one.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.