A Tired, Yet Unsettled Debate: Pleaded or Pled? Drunken or Drunk?

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 23, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We have a problem. The editors insist on uniform standards of writing. Though such a quest is laudable, it creates a significant issue for us writers when it comes to two weird words: pleaded and drunken.

It's not just us either. The ABA and the Daily Report are pleading for a resolution to the pleaded versus pled debate. Meanwhile, we've turned to bottles of two buck chuck after arguing for common usage over technicalities in the drunken drunk debate.

In fact, both seem to be a matter of common usage versus traditional usage. While ABA readers have so far voted 69.22 percent to 30.78 percent in favor of the shorter past participle of plea, one very bored guy's research on the courts' usage found that SCOTUS has used pleaded in more than 3,000 opinions while only using pled in 26 - many instances of which were quotations.

The verdict? You are a lowly associate. Your place is not to make grammatical precedent but to follow it. Old-timers like the Nine on SCOTUS, Judges Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, and probably the partners upstairs, all prefer the longer "pleaded" choice.

As for us bloggers, we're sticking to our guns. Blogging is more informal than legal briefs and tends to have a conversational tone. When was the last time you heard someone say "My client pleaded guilty."?

As for this drunken drunk matter, according to the Speak Good English movement, who we can only assume is a reliable source, "drunk" is a noun or a verb. For example, the drunk drunk the cheap wine. Drunken is an adjective, which can be illustrated as: the drunken drunk drunk the cheap wine.

Still not clear? Here's the American Heritage Dictionary's take on the matter:

"As an adjective the form drunk is used after a verb while the form drunken is now used only in front of a noun: They were drunk last night. A drunken patron at the restaurant ruined our evening. Using drunk in front of a noun is usually considered unacceptable in formal style, but the phrases drunk driver and drunk driving, which have become fixed expressions, present an exception to this. Drunk and drunken are sometimes used to make a legal distinction, whereby a drunk driver is a driver whose alcohol level exceeds the legal limit, and a drunken driver is a driver who is inebriated."

Get it? We still don't. Drunken driving still sounds so irritating.

Because the grammaticism of this is mildly unclear, we're not going to admit defeat. Drunk driving just sounds right and we're sticking to it. As for you associates, we'd recommend either using what the partners use or cracking open a bottle of scotch and making sure that they are too drunk drunken? inebriated to care.

What about you, dear reader? Chime in with your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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