The Grammarphobia Blog

He should’ve stood in bed

Q: The principal at the school where I teach disagrees with me about this sentence: “I was too sick to go to the party, so I just stood home.” I think it’s flat-out wrong. “Stood” is the past tense of “stand,” not “stay.” But she defends it as a regional usage. Does she stand corrected?

A: The verbs “stand” and “stay” have many meanings in common, and “stood,” the past tense of “stand,” is sometimes used in the same way we use “stayed,” the past tense of “stay.” (Example: “And so things stood for many years.”)

But the specific usage you’re asking about (“I just stood home”) is not considered standard English.

In fact, it’s not mentioned at all (not as standard, nonstandard, regional, or dialectal) in the Dictionary of American Regional English, the Oxford English Dictionary, the six standard dictionaries we’ve checked, or our other language resources.

Nevertheless, the usage is out there, as you’ve observed, and it’s close in meaning to several standard usages, including some that date back to Anglo-Saxon times.

When the verb “stand” showed up in the mid-900s, according to the OED, it meant to “assume or maintain an erect attitude on one’s feet (with distinction, expressed or understood, from sit, lie, kneel, etc.).”

The first Oxford citation is from the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illuminated manuscript that the OED dates from about 950 (some scholars date it from around 700): “gesæh ðone hælend stondende” (“Jesus Christ the Savior standing”).

The erect sense of “stand” is the most common meaning today, but over the years the verb has taken on several senses in which “stay” could replace “stand,” including these: to stand fast (circa 888), to stand still (c. 888), to  stand about (1390), to stand apart (1538), and to stand pat (1882).

Although DARE doesn’t have an entry for “stood” used as the past tense of “stay,” we suspect the usage may have originated as a New York regionalism. The earliest examples we’ve found are in New York State court transcripts from the 1920s

The first example is from testimony filed in a 1921 case before the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court: “Several times she came, and a few times she stood home.”

And this is from a 1924 appeal before the court: “The reason why she stood home a couple of days every week, you know, I told him because I have to report when the girls go in and out. He wanted to know why she was home. I says, ‘I think her knee is hurted.’ ”

Here’s an example from the transcript of a 1941 case tried before the New York State Court of Appeals: “Q. Dilla remained home doing the cleaning, isn’t that correct? A. Yes, sir. Yes, she stood home.”

Finally, this is from the questioning of a witness in a 1955 wrongful-death case tried before the New York Supreme Court: “Q. As far as you know, did he go to work steadily? A. Well, he stood home— Q. Outside of a cold, he worked steadily? A. Yes.”

The lexicographer Robert W. Burchfield, writing in Fowler’s Modern English Usage (rev. 3rd ed.), cites a couple of dialectal usages in England that are somewhat similar to the one you’re interested in.

Burchfield says “stood” has been used in parts of England as a present participle to mean “standing,” but the usage “seems to have gone unrecorded in the OED.”

He cites a few examples, including this one from Yorkshire: “She was stood in front of the mantelpiece trying to think of the name for the clock.”

“Its existence in modern regional use is not in question,” Burchfield adds, “but its precise distribution has not been established.”

However, he says the distribution is presumably similar to that of “sat” used in the sense of “sitting,” a dialectical usage heard in northern and western England.

Burchfield gives this example from Difficulties With Girls, a 1988 novel by Kingsley Amis: “I can’t help thinking of that Tim sat there juddering his leg up and down.”

He says the usage “was once standard but has gradually become regionally restricted over the centuries.”

In “English Worldwide,” a 1989 paper by the linguists Jenny Cheshire, Viv Edwards, and Pam Whittle, the authors suggest that the uses of “stood” for “standing” and “sat” for “sitting” are evolving and “are now becoming characteristic of a general non-standard or semi-standard variety of English.”

“Their occurrence in written English points once again to the difficulty of identifying clearly the features that are characteristic of non-standard English rather than standard English,” the authors add.

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