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I’m working on an 18th-century manuscript, and I’m trying to explain to others the use of ’d in past tense verbs.

Is there a word that encompasses the usage of ’d in early 18th-century manuscripts? I’m thinking of words like play’d instead of played, or revolv’d instead of revolved.

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You want a word that means somebody used an apostrophe to represent missing letters not pronounced in speech? What, like a contraction then? – tchrist Apr 11 '13 at 13:26
FUN TRIVIA: Shakespeare often used –’d because in his time –ed was pronounced as an extra syllable unless clipped by an apostrophe: wrong’d would be one syllable, while wronged would be two. Now that we no longer pronounce most –ed endings, the apostrophe isn’t necessary. For some reason convention stuck with the apostrophe replacement in possessive endings ( -es ) but not past tense ( -ed ). realgrammar.wordpress.com/apostrophes – Kris Apr 11 '13 at 13:47
When you write played it could be pronounced with either two syllables or with one. (Nowadays almost always with one, but perhaps not so clear in the past.) In poetry, or other writing to be read aloud, the writer may want to specify the one syllable pronunciation by writing play'd. Or the two-syllable pronunciation by writing playèd. – GEdgar Apr 11 '13 at 13:48
Google can find strange things. Excalibur, An Arthurian Drama (by R. A. Cram, 1893) page 137: "I thought ye playèd pander to the king." – GEdgar Apr 11 '13 at 16:54
Hesperides (1648, Robert Herrick) "As if they playèd at bo-peep," – GEdgar Apr 11 '13 at 17:01

You may be looking for elision, defined as:

omission of one or more sounds (such as a vowel, a consonant, or a whole syllable) in a word or phrase, producing a result that is easier for the speaker to pronounce | source: Wikipedia

It's possible to make a case for other forms of reduction - such as a contraction - but in your question you state that historical context is key. Given that -ed suffixes were once pronounced as a separate syllable, I would almost certainly think that elision is appropriate to describe the usage of 'd to indicate the "omission of one or more sounds".

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Wonder what elision has to do with the apostrophe. – Kris Dec 19 '14 at 11:43

The 'past tense apostrophe' in contrast to the 'possessive apostrophe'. … there might be as many as half a dozen cases where Adair's used a past tense apostrophe (e.g. "vanish'd") (Toon)

I can’t wait until she’s all deck’d out in her poodle skirt to go to the 50's party.

(from a comment on realgrammar)

As when that statue first with classic grace The clement Caesar's palace deck’d, …
(Fables in song)

As to its being out of fashion today, see the FUN TRIVIA comment of mine above.
And of course,

Punk’d, punk’d

among the exceptions that brought ’d back into fashion.
subpoena'd (subpoenaed), ski'd (skied), echo'd (echoed). -Curtis

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Examples don't actually answer the question "Is there a word that encompasses the usage of 'd?" though, surely? – Andrew Leach Apr 11 '13 at 14:14
I haven't voted at all. – Andrew Leach Apr 11 '13 at 14:29
But you did the damage already - lol. So I suppose you know what such a comment does. Anyways. – Kris Apr 12 '13 at 6:40
A very interesting aside here: motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/… – Kris Dec 19 '14 at 11:53

The word you're searching for is "syncope." From Wiki:

In phonology, syncope (/ˈsɪŋkəpiː/; Greek: syn- + koptein "to strike, cut off") is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word, especially the loss of an unstressed vowel. It is found both in synchronic analysis of languages and diachronics. Its opposite, whereby sounds are added, is epenthesis.

As a poetic device

Sounds may be removed from the interior of a word as a rhetorical or poetic device, whether for embellishment or for the sake of the meter.

Latin commo[ve]rat > poetic commorat ("he had moved")
English hast[e]ning > poetic hast'ning
English heav[e]n > poetic heav'n
English over > poetic o'er
English never > poetic ne'er


Here are examples in the final two stanzas of Blake's 'Introduction' from "Songs of Innocence" (1789):

Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read.
So he vanish'd from my sight,
And I pluck'd a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stain'd the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

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Syncope is a regular, phonological process. Indicating elision of sounds by apostrophes in writing is a different matter altogether. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 7 '15 at 9:48

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