You got burgled

First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a linguist. I’m not qualified to discuss why we choose the words we use, or the history of language development, or the differences between regional or national dialects. I am, however, interested in digging deeper into a conversation we had with our Cable group last night. (For those not in the know, a Cable group is what our church calls a small group.)

Here’s the short of it: A few days ago, Gary and Kacie were having a friendly marital debate about what a burglar has done in the past. Kacie said that the burglar burgled while Gary insisted that the burglar burglarized. So they called another Cable couple: Chris is an English teacher, and he put the question to his wife, Cara, and a carful of people. He came back with a unanimous burglarized. Sorry, Kacie.

So when all this came up over Natty Light and apple pie à la mode, I said that I wasn’t so sure. I granted that burglarized is more common, but I wasn’t about to rule out burgled as a possibility. We looked it up at dictionary.com, where we learned that burgled is indeed a word. Kacie and Gary were both right; imminent divorce has been averted.

But I wanted more, so I went to the Google Books Ngram Viewer. This is, of course, one of the reasons I am not a linguist: I consider dictionary.com and the Google authoritative sources. In any case, I expected to see that burgled was more popular in the past, but with burglarized taking a healthy modern lead. And that’s precisely what I found:

Blue = burglarized, Red = burgled

Burgled peaked with a strong lead in the 1930s, then dropped in the ’40s and was more recently overtaken by burglarized. The difference wasn’t quite as overwhelming as I would’ve guessed, though. I never (and I do mean never) hear anyone use the word burgled. Maybe it’s an American thing, I thought. So I searched the same terms in the American English corpus and came up with this:

Blue = burglarized, Red = burgled

That’s more like it. They were close in the 1930s, but burglarized has dominated thieving vocabulary ever since. And how.

But the strong burgled showing in the English corpus had to come from somewhere. British English corpus, here we come:

Blue = burglarized, Red = burgled

It looks like almost no one gets burglarized in England. The word is nearly nonexistent on the other side of the pond; burgled is certainly more common in America than its over-syllabized counterpart is in England.

I don’t know why Yanks use one word and Brits use the other, but I do know why I prefer burgled: it’s shorter, it makes as much sense, and I’m a long-time Anglophile. It’s mostly the Anglophilia, though.

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2 Comments on “You got burgled

  1. good to know you have some English blood Josh…
    Having one foot on either side of “the pond”, I’ve found I really need to watch where I place those feet when engaging in conversation. As an old sage once said…”England and America have many things in common…with the possible exception of their language…”
    One has to be extremely careful here when referring to pants for instance…that’s English for underpants…and I definitely no longer refer to anyone’s fanny in mixed company!!
    When I’m surprised…I’m gobsmacked…
    When I’m tired…I’m knackered…
    If I need a nap…it’s a kip…
    Mention that you’re going for a burger…and they’ll expect you to return with a councilman…
    But, one thing the Brits have that I wish the Yanks could get their arms around is an incredible capacity for self deprecating humor…nothing personal mate, blimey, what’s life if you can’t look at yourself and have a giggle?

    Random thoughts that passed between my ears when I read the above included,
    If I’ve been listening to a drum and bugle corps…have I been bugled??…or perhaps buglerized??

  2. Nice research, Josh! The mystery has been solved and the marriage preserved. You are a good friend.

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