Why the Plural of “Die” Is “Dice,” not “Douse”

And other language fossils such as “How dare you,” “Perish the thought,” and pronouncing the “-ed” at the end of “wicked.” 

Neal Whitman, Writing for
6-minute read
Episode #357

Pronouncing the “-ed” on the End of Wicked

Another sound change that has happened with English suffixes is that the “-ed” suffix is now usually pronounced as just a T (as in “knocked,” “washed,” and “kissed”), or just a D (as in “wagged,” “slammed,” and “raised”). So in that case, why do we still pronounce “wicked” with two syllables?

Well, if we were talking about something that had a wick, like a candle, we wouldn’t. We’d pronounce it “wict.” But that’s not the meaning we want if we’re talking about witches of the west. As it turns out, “wicked” may be derived from an Old English word for “wizard” plus that “-ed” suffix, but that connection is so hidden that most English speakers probably think of “wicked” as an indivisible word. So in the 1600s, when the “-ed” suffix began to be pronounced without its vowel, “wicked” got left behind, along with some words that truly didn’t have that “-ed” suffix, such as “naked,” which just happens to end in “-ed” by chance.

“Buck Naked” Is the Original, but “Butt Naked” Is Gaining Ground

“Naked” brings to mind a good example of how compound words or phrases can get left behind, too, when one of their component words falls out of use. The phrase “buck naked” first appeared in the 1920s, and its origin is still a matter of dispute. What exactly does “buck” mean in this context? When new generations hear an expression that doesn’t make sense to them, they’re likely to reinterpret it as something that makes at least a little bit more sense. Thus, in the 1960s, the much more sensible “butt naked” began to appear, and has been increasing in popularity ever since. Reinterpretations like these are called “folk etymologies,” and there are hundreds of them in English and other languages.


About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.