I have a couple of zombie-related posts planned for this week, in honor of the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead. I’ll discuss my thoughts on the episode tomorrow, I think, since it doesn’t air in the UK until tonight, and it will be full of spoilers.
One small detail that irks the living crap out of me, though, is a common grammar error that’s pervasive in the genre. I can’t help it; I’m an editor. Words are literally my business.
Basic conjugation of “bite” is simple.
Present tense = bite. Zombies bite tasty, slow-moving humans.
Past tense = bit. The zombie bit him on the ass when he tried to crawl under the fence.
Past participle = bitten. Jeb was bitten an hour ago, so it’s too late to cut off his arm to save him. The loud-mouthed idiot got bitten yesterday, and Frank happily shot him in the face. He’d been bitten by a zombie weasel, which was kind of funny. It had bitten him six times before Horace killed it with a lawn dart.
Apparently, past participles do not survive the zombie plague, because nobody uses them. “You been bit?” “I got bit.” “He was bit.” I understand The Walking Dead originated in the rural southeastern United States, and that phrasing is a casual dialect that is accepted in the area. I know it, but I still cringe. Because it’s wrong. Just…wrong.
The rapidly-declining use of proper grammar in our society might be a sign of an impending apocalypse. People so commonly say “he got bit” that it’s accepted, and most people don’t even realize it’s incorrect.
Because of this, even though it goes against every nit-picky bone in my editorial brain, I have to leave it that way in dialogue when I’m editing. That (sadly) is how people talk, so I have to swallow the bitter bile of poor grammar and move on. I still insist on “he was bitten” in narrative, though.
While I have to pick my battles, I refuse to completely surrender.