Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sow, vb.

sow, vb. Part A: Inflection: sow / sowed / sown. In the past participle, *"sowed" is a variant form. In modern print sources, "sown" predominates by a 6-to-1 ratio. Part B: Sowing wild oats. To "sow" is to scatter seed. By extension, to "sow one's wild oats" is to engage in youthful promiscuity or other excess. Some writers, though, mistake "sow" (/soh/) with its homophone "sew" (= to stitch with needle and thread) — e.g.: "How completely different it was when Rash came to California from Maryland in the mid-1970s with $75 in his pocket and countless wild oats to sew [read 'sow']." Neil Milbert, "Out of the Fast Lane, Onto the Fast Track," Chicago Trib., 25 Aug. 1994, Sports §, at 10. Sometimes the metaphor appears to be misunderstood. A father, for example, cannot sow the son’s oats: "Snelling's oats were sewn [sic] early in big-time college basketball by his father, Ray Snelling, who played at Southwest Missouri State University in the late 1960s." Kevin E. Boone, "Snelling Will Be Temp in Flat River," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10 Aug. 1989, at 7. It's hard to suggest a solution for that sentence, which reflects woolly thinking. But perhaps a better phrasing would be "roots were planted." Also, this is traditionally a male-only metaphor, since only males have the seed to sow. Only if you take the phrase as a dead metaphor does it work in reference to females. But many readers will find the following sentences hopelessly incongruous: o "Are they women who are sowing their wild oats before they get married — or are they really married women who are afraid to tell the truth?" Abigail Van Buren, "Survey: Wives Are More Faithful," Chicago Trib., 10 Sept. 1987, at C17. o "Jamie, a salon owner, met him before she was out of her teens, but at 25, she wonders aloud whether she needs to sow her wild oats." Joanne Weintraub, "Turning Another Page in Reality TV," Milwaukee J. Sentinel, 13 June 2006, at E1. Language-Change Index — *"sew wild oats" for "sow wild oats": Stage 1. *Invariably inferior forms. ——————– Quotation of the Day: "A large work is difficult because it is large, even though all its parts might singly be performed with facility; where there are many things to be done, each must be allowed its share of time and labour, in the proportion only which it bears to the whole; nor can it be expected, that the stones which form the dome of a temple, should be squared and polished like the diamond of a ring." Samuel Johnson, "Preface to the Dictionary" (1755) (as reprinted in Words, Words, Words About Dictionaries 129, 139 (Jack C. Gray ed., 1963).
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