Do things get spoilt?
February 4, 2011 2:39 AM   Subscribe

Is "gets spoilt" proper English?

Why or why not?

Do you have any links for language questions like this?
posted by pick_the_flowers to Education (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry, I should have provided examples of use:

My computer got spoilt.
The radiator of my car always gets spoilt.
The calculator I bought looked good but got spoilt the next day.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 2:44 AM on February 4, 2011

American English usually uses 'spoiled'. In British English they're mostly interchangeable. I think the only exception is where you're using 'spoil' in the archaic sense to mean plunder to seize.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:45 AM on February 4, 2011

if by "proper english" you mean "in broad and uncontroversial use" then yes I reckon it is... I can't give a linguists answer your "why" question though...
posted by russm at 2:47 AM on February 4, 2011

(note: I speak from a commonwealth english perspective)
posted by russm at 2:49 AM on February 4, 2011

Yes that's fine, grammar-wise, but (speaking as a UK English speaker) I don't think anyone would use "spoilt" to describe any of those things. "Spoilt" in the sense of "got ruined" is used more in relation to "nice things being disrupted in some way", e.g.
The village fair was spoilt by unruly youths making noise.
The peaceful afternoon was spoilt when the dog chased a cat into the house.

FYI "spoilt" can also refer to food that has gone off ("That yoghurt you left in the fridge and forgot about has spoilt"), and to children (or adults) being over-indulged ("She really gets spoilt by her grandparents at Christmas").
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:50 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

gah - seems I fail at apostrophes as well as at capitalization
posted by russm at 2:51 AM on February 4, 2011

The two forms are just the result of change over time - reading any book over a hundred years old you'll find examples of words spelled in ways that would sound odd today. In the case of words like spoilt/spoiled there's still a certain amount of current usage of both forms, depending on which version of English you speak, and also context. Personally I think I'd be inclined to say 'He was a spoilt child', but 'I spoiled the dinner', for no other reason than that they intuitively sound right to me. If I were American I might choose differently.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:05 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

From George Bernard Shaw's Fanny's First Play (PDF): "But at last it got spoilt by the Oxford and Cambridge students up for the boat race."
posted by mhum at 3:20 AM on February 4, 2011

It's proper English, but not proper American.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:24 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's Standard British English.

However, what I learned from a wall poster in the "best" primary school in the country, is that "got" is not really necessary. Instead you should say "was spoilt".

Bear in mind that the purpose of instructions like this was to flood children with self-loathing, rather than to improve their grasp of Standard English.
posted by tel3path at 3:38 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

In terms of meaning rather than grammar, "spoil" means to damage something in the sense of marring its perfection or blemishing it. Thus, it is not standard usage to apply it to damaging the mechanical functioning of an object.

For example. Let's say you've got a nice big Hi-Def flat-screen TV. If you have a cable outage that forces you to revert to picking up broadcast channels, you might say "The cable outage spoiled the TV." But if you accidentally launched your Wii-mote at the screen and cracked it, you would not say "The Wii-mote spoiled the TV."

Also, leaving aside the US/UK spelling distinction that others have pointed out, to my American ear, "to get spoiled" sounds idiomatically correct only when used in the sense of indulging a person. "The children went to their grandmothers and got spoiled" sounds fine. But while "the party was spoiled" sounds idiomatic, "the party got spoiled" sounds ever so slightly off.

Idiomaticness is not really a matter of correctness or properness, but rather how words are habitually used and strung together.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 4:00 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not quite sure what you are looking for on sites to address these, but there's Language Log and, if you're interested specifically in the differences between American and British English, Separated by a common language.
posted by paduasoy at 5:06 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It may be proper English but there is usually little point in saying "got/was/etc" as spoiled or spoilt is most often sufficient in itself. If it spoiled/spoilt then it necessarily "got" or "was" spoiled/spoilt. There are exceptions. I find the same issue in the perennial question regarding " recommend me"--in most cases the "me" in "recommend me" is entirely redundant. Certainly it is in most of the questions on AskMeFi as the poster is asking a question for them self.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:31 AM on February 4, 2011

"Spoilt" is wrong in American English. Grammatically, the "got" is a bit iffy, too -- it's possible there are some circumstances when you need that, but for the most part, no. Finally, perishable food spoils; computers, car radiators, and calculators break.

(It's not at all clear in which way you're asking this question. If you want more useful answers, a clarification would be helpful.)
posted by J. Wilson at 6:07 AM on February 4, 2011

In terms of meaning rather than grammar, "spoil" means to damage something in the sense of marring its perfection or blemishing it. Thus, it is not standard usage to apply it to damaging the mechanical functioning of an object.

This is what I was trying to say but ironically could not think of the right words.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:25 AM on February 4, 2011

I think there are several meanings that have slightly different grammar associated with them.

One is where something becomes spoiled without any explicit outside influence; there is something intrinsic to it that went wrong. In this form you do not typically name what is doing the spoiling, you just use the passive voice and say 'it spoiled/spoilt'. For example, spoiled food. A computer or calculator could not spoil in this sense, unless maybe they used defective components to build them, and the circuitboards grow tin whiskers or the capacitors rotted, ruining them. In this sense of the word the spoiled thing can be completely ruined in a functional way.

Then in another sense, the damage is more cosmetic, or psychological in nature. Like a skyscraper spoiling a view, or someone spoiling a surprise. In this form you usually name what is doing the spoiling using an active voice. Your new computer could be spoilt/spoiled by a friend getting an even more powerful model.

Then there's spoiling where you're indulging someone or something. You might say, not completely seriously, that your computer gets spoilt/spoiled by being carefully dusted every day or something.
posted by Hither at 9:04 AM on February 4, 2011

'Spoilt' is only wrong in recent American English. Growing up (and attending school) in the 60s it was proper according to our teachers to use at that time; but has since fallen out of favor with the younger generations.
posted by schade at 10:18 AM on February 4, 2011

"Spoilt" would be an irregular verb form (as opposed to "spoiled"). "The evolution of the past tense - how verbs change over time" says that irregular verbs over time often become regular ones. They do so based on how often they're used:
They regularise in a way that is 'inversely proportional to the square root of their frequency'. This means that if they are used 100 times less frequently, they will regularise 10 times as fast and if they are used 10,000 times less frequently, they will regularise 100 times as fast.
Basically you figure that if it's a word we don't use much, it's not worth remembering that it has special conjugation.

I remember reading a similar article (probably about the same study) that had a neat chart of some irregulars that have fallen out of favor (lept vs. leaped, dreamt vs. dreamed) and some predictions for ones we still use. (I'd love if anyone can find that article!)
posted by davextreme at 10:31 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

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