A wandering past participle, or a new idiom?

Maybe I am inadvertently committing the Recency Fallacy, but it seems to me that up until last year or so the past participle of pet was petted:

“Where do your cats like to be petted?” <http://www.mihav.com/en/forum/share-amp-chat/where-do-your-cats-like-to-162014>

pet; petted; petting” <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pet>

“The past participle of ‘to pet’ is ‘petted’.” <http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/ask-teacher/19711-pet-petted.html>

But Barbara and I have recently noticed that several people we know have switched to pet as its own past participle. For example:

“My dog likes to be pet all the time.” <overheard>
“That cat really likes to be pet.” <overheard>
“Do snakes like to be petted?” <http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090310231953AAm1xeY>

Most interestingly, a post from the UK contains the sentence, “But, when my rabbit is laying down, he definitely likes to be pet around his whole body,” even though the headline (presumably written by someone else) reads, “How do i know my bunny likes being petted?” <http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091011130535AAHEC77>

It may or may not be relevant, but all the attested forms overheard by Barbara and me come from highly educated women — even our veterinarian — so it’s not an illiteracy. Somehow a weak verb has turned into a strong verb, which is the reverse of the natural course of events. (For example, workwrought changed to workworked.) We could gather some evidence of what’s going on by checking other verbs that rhyme with pet, some of which provide possibly explanatory paradigms:

setset (possibly the model for petpet)
betbet (likewise)
letlet (likewise)
getgotten (a different strong-verb paradigm)
jetjetted (a regular, i.e. weak verb)
netnetted (regular)
wetwetted (regular)
abetabetted (regular)
whetwhetted (regular)
fretfretted (regular)
vetvetted (regular)

So these data don’t really explain why petted would become pet. And it’s interesting that all the surprising examples that I could find on the Web or in overheard speech have occurred in the phrase “likes to be pet”; maybe this has become new idiom that I’ve been unaware of, in which case the past participle remains petted elsewhere? Just a conjecture…

Categories: Linguistics