Your questions answered

More

In a previous entry, I asked if there was anything you'd like me to ask the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary while I was among them. Here are answers to a couple of questions that might be of general interest:

When "meh" gets added.

Actually, the question isn't "when" but "if." Before they add a word, the OED editors need about 10 years' worth of print (or now Internet) citations, to show that the word has staying power. Fiona McPherson, the editor in charge of new words, explained, "Once it goes in, it never comes out."

Next question, which arrived in e-mail:

The accepted spelling of the conjugation of the present tense of the verb "try" is as follows:

I try, you try, he/she tries, we try, they try

Then you have the noun, "three tries at bat."  Is there a reason (origin) why he/she tries is not spelled at he/she trys, so that the verb has a different spelling than the noun?

I'd rephrase that question more generally as: Why do most words that end in "y" (for instance, "try") switch to "ie" in the plural and in certain verb forms?
 
According to Philip Durkin, the head of the OED's etymology section, in the Middle English period people freely wrote either "y" or "i" in words like "try," as they pleased. But as spellings regularized, the general feeling was that "y" looked good at the end of a word but not so much in the middle of one. Hence the switch we make from "y" to "ie" when the word form ends in "s." It's a "graphic convention," Durkin said.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In