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)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

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

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In