To Tread Where No Man Has Trod Before

I’m working on a story that includes the sentence “One meter from his feet was a place no man had ever tread.” I realized tonight, after I’d read that sentence a few times, that it was incorrect. The past of ‘tread’ is ‘trod’. Worse yet, the past participle is ‘trodden’.

I’m okay with ‘downtrodden’, but while I can barely stomach ‘trod’ I just can’t imagine writing a sentence with ‘trodden’. It’s ugly. Even substituting ‘trod’ in my sentence is painful; I considered changing the verb rather than use that form. The only problem was, ‘to tread’ is easily the most parsimonious word for the job. Parsimonious, yes, but ‘trod’ carries an archaic air with it that I don’t want in the story. People just don’t say ‘trod’ anymore.

But ‘stepped’ is a junky substitute, lacking gravity. ‘set foot’ is probably the closest modern substitute for ‘trod’, but it’s almost a cliché. I could go long-winded and say something like “… was a place that had never felt the foot of man.” In this context, that’s a bit much. So I have ‘trod’. Honestly, though, I can’t use it. It’s like a big archaic raspberry at the end of the second sentence in the story, when I’m going all-out to set the tone. The more pleasant, albeit incorrect, use of the present tense bothers me less.

In the end, I will have to go with some alternative that, while lacking parsimony, does not go plop on the page. Alternatively, we could launch a campaign to make ‘to tread’ less irregular by allowing ‘tread’ to be the past tense.


6 thoughts on “To Tread Where No Man Has Trod Before

  1. Perhaps Muddled University should for a committee for the eradication of ugly verbs. So far we have ‘glided’ and ‘trod’.

  2. An interesting conundrum. I just want to say I am here reading this entry because of RSS alerts. If internet is cocaine, are RSS feeds crack?
    It is not doing my productivity any good.

  3. from the department of notions unrelated to the blog entry…
    on this morning’s commute I passed a semi with this ominous phrase written on the trailer:

    Chemotherapeutic Infectious Waste

    The trailer also had a couple of small yet stylish biohazard symbols on it.

    I guess the next time we feel like kvetching about WIPP, take a look at the real world. No TruPac containers here, just a trailer and a descriptive phrase.

  4. This illustrates some differences between true Writers and dilettante hacks. When I first read “One meter from his feet was a place no man had ever tread,” I knew it didn’t sound (read) right. I think I would have… gotten (another one of them past participle thingies, right?) to “trod,” but I would have lost faith in the face of “trodden,” thinking there’s no way that could possibly be correct.

    However, firmly establishing my hack cred, if I was confident in the correctitude of “had trodden,” I would have used it with glee. In fact, ecstatic at the opportunity to use such an awkward turn of phrase gotten, I would’ve.

  5. One other thing that separates true Writers and dilettante hacks is the ability to write clearly, a task that I did quite poorly in this blog post. The intended meaning was “It’s bad enough that I have to use ‘trod’ in this sentence, and I probably wont, but I cant even imagine using ‘trodden’.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *