We’re constantly hearing how the pace of life is accelerating, and I can’t think of a more convincing demonstration of that than the phenomenon of what could be called “telegraphese” in our everyday speech. 

By this, I mean a tendency to strip sentences down to essential words and leave out any that can be omitted without rendering them ambiguous or incomprehensible. Here’s what seems at first reading a well-developed piece of prose: “The school [Eton]’s hunt master retired, with no replacement appointed. Beagles have been kept on school grounds since 1858, and this is one of the last remaining school packs in Britain. But the hounds have now been relocated to a local hunting society, prompting fears they might never return … the boys … took to the streets in their hundreds … The school caved and promised that the hounds would return.” Spectator, 7 May 2022.

In the very recent past, no one would have thought of leaving out the preposition “in” after the verb “caved” in that sentence. The accepted phrase was “to cave in”, meaning, in the OED’s definition, “to fall in over a hollow, as the earth on the side of a pit or a cutting”. The dictionary specifies that the verb “cave” is usually accompanied by “in”, which allows for the shorter form, but I can’t remember ever having heard or seen it before, maybe, last year.  

I’ve encountered “cave” in this new, brisk form already once or twice in prose emanating from the United States, and as usual, I suspect it originated there. Rudyard Kipling famously accused America of “haste and waste”, and the phrase seems to reflect both vices — though I can’t bring myself to think neither is really vicious in this context.

Here, the omission of the preposition seems not so much wasteful as economical — the saving of a word that is perhaps not absolutely necessary. Haste: yes, I agree the clipped or “telegraphese” form of the phrase says that we have no time to linger on unnecessary details. I may regret the loss of more leisured phrasing, but can’t really blame a writer or speaker who wants to move on.

It’s all the fault of text messaging, I suspect. As we know, it’s in the world of rapid communication by means of the gadgets on our mobile phones that these short-cuts evolve. That’s the reason why, in my example, where it appears in a relatively formal piece of journalism, it definitely sounds an alien note. It’s this that forces me to the conclusion that “caved” has taken over from “caved in” as the normal and accepted phrase, and I can’t help regretting that.