From Daily Writing Tips:
The term half-life existed before the term was applied to the breakdown of a radioactive substance.
One earlier meaning was “an unsatisfactory way of life.” Another was “the size of painting half life-size.”
The radioactive application dates from 1907. Now, the term is also applied to the time required for half the amount of any substance to be “eliminated or disintegrated by natural processes.”
In 2007, a group of Harvard mathematicians developed a formula to calculate the half-life of English irregular verbs. The less frequently a verb is used, the more quickly will it begin to decay.
Irregular verbs are one of my favorite things about English. I see them as a link with the oldest form of the language, living fossils still in use.
Nevertheless, I accept the fact that many of the remaining irregulars are being lost daily to regularization: changing their distinctive past forms to -ed in both the simple past and past participle. This is a normal part of the development of the language.
The Harvard study calculated the half-life of 177 English irregular verbs. According to the findings, many have already reached their half-lives; others are nearing them. The most frequently used irregular verbs, however, look likely to outlast the language.
English has been developing (and changing) for more than 1,400 years. Irregular verbs with a half-life of 700 years are going or gone. Some have been operating as hybrids, with an -ed past and an irregular past participle.
Verbs with a 700-year half-life
Some of my favorites have reached the 700-year milestone.
I’d like to keep them all, but the forms I cherish most are those of slay.
I have nothing against the form slayed in the sense of amusing or impressing people:
They slayed us with the little boy who couldn’t wait for Christmas,
Seth Rogen slayed at the Hollywood Film Awards last night.
With George Fenneman, as his announcer and straight man, Groucho slayed his audiences with improvised conversation with his guests.
A few minutes later, Calhoun went to the podium and slayed a roomful of journos with his usual combination of bombast, wit and defensiveness.
However, I do feel that vampires and dragons should be slain. Likewise, I prefer to read that Buffy slew the Chaos Demon, not that she “slayed” it.
Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips