Your questions answered

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.

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