Gettin’ PAID

One thing I’ve always found mildly interesting is that certain spelling errors seem to come and go in waves. You might see a word like “lightning” (as in, the weather phenomenon) spelled as “lightening” a few times… then there’ll be a giant tidal wave of misspellings… then the misspellings recede, and the correct spelling begins to dominate again.

It would appear that we are in the midst of a “payed” tidal wave right now, as in “I can’t wait to get payed” or “I payed $30 for dinner”. Seeing this – instead of the proper “paid” – makes me all stabby, especially since people who use “payed” insist that it’s a perfectly acceptable spelling. After all, as I type this now, Firefox isn’t doing the red squiggly line thing to indicate that it’s misspelled… so it must be legit, right?

Not really. Payed actually is a legitimate word, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are two acceptable uses for payed, both nautical in nature:

13. Naut. a. (trans.) To let out (a rope or chain) by slackening it, to allow or cause to run out. (Also in reference to something let out by the rope.) Now always with out or away. Also transf. 14. Naut. a. (trans.) To cause (a ship) to fall to leeward, or fall away from the wind. Now always with off.”

So… if you’re on a ship and move it away from the wind, or are letting a line run out, you can use payed. In all other situations – especially those involving financial transactions – the word is PAID… full stop, end of.

But if you DO wish to argue that “payed” is a legitimate word (outside nautical usage), then bring it on. In their 2011 book The History of English Spelling, authors Christopher Upwards and George Davidson say that “in medial positions Modern English generally prefers AI, EI, OI (paid, vein, join) to AY, etc., though exceptions are found (e.g. oyster)” and “since Middle English treated I and Y as interchangeable, alternation occurs between AI and AY, which left a legacy in Modern English of AY typically used word-finally (or syllable-finally), but often replaced by AI before suffixes; hence the variation between day/daily, gay/gaiety, mayhem/maim, lay/laid, pay/paid.”

Boom! [drops mike]

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