H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
i.e., it scarcely matters what vowel marked the present tense of dr-g, for with any vowel this combination of consonants demands, in any English-speaking mind which is functioning naturally, and not biased by conscious thought, that its past participle be something very close to drug.
Some of the verbs of the vulgate show the end and products of language movements that go back to the Anglo-Saxon period, and even beyond. There is, for example, the disappearance of the final t in such words as crep, slep, lep, swep and wep. Most of these, in Anglo-Saxon, were strong verbs. The preterite of to sleep (sloepan), for example, was slep, and of to weep was weop. But in the course of time both to sleep and to weep acquired weak preterite endings, the first becoming sloepte and the second wepte. This weak conjugation was itself degenerated. Originally, the inflectional suffix had been -de or -ede and in some cases -ode, and the vowels were always pronounced. The wearing down process that set in in the twelfth century disposed of the final e, but in certain words the other vowel survived for a good while, and we still observe it in such archaisms as learned and beloved. Finally, however, it became silent in other preterites, and loved, for example, began to be pronounced (and often written) as a word of one syllable: lovd.55 This final d-sound now fell upon difficulties of its own. After certain consonants it was hard to pronounce clearly, and so the sonant was changed into the easier surd, and such words as pushed and clipped became, in ordinary conversation, pusht and clipt. In other verbs, the t-sound had come in long before, with the degenerated weak ending, and when the final e was dropped their stem vowels tended to change. Thus arose such forms as slept. In vulgar American another step is taken, and the suffix is dropped altogether. Thus, by a circuitous route, verbs originally strong, and for many centuries hovering between the two conjugations, have eventually become strong again.
The case of helt is probably an example of change by false analogy.
Note 55. The last stand of the distinct -ed was made in Addisons day. He was in favor of retaining it, and in the Spectator for Aug. 4, 1711, he protested against obliterating the syllable in the termination of our praeter perfect tense, as in these words, drownd, walkd, arrivd, for drowned, walked, arrived, which has very much disfigured the tongue, and turned a tenth part of our smoothest words into so many clusters of consonants. [back]