Buy - by - bye

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

The words buy, by and bye are homophones, rhyming with the name of the letter I (IPA: /baɪ/). You may want to consult AWE's page on Goodbye.

  • 'To buy' is a verb, meaning 'to purchase', 'to acquire in exchange for money'. There is a note on the irregular forms of the verb at Buy (irregular verb).
  • By is the common English preposition. AWE will not attempt to define it: OED runs to some 40 main meanings, with countless sub-refinements.
    • As a prefix, with or without hyphenation, it tends to mean 'secondary', 'subsidiary', 'of less importance', as in by-path, a 'side path', 'not the main road' and often 'a little-used track'; by-way, by-road and (archaic) by-street are similar, and sometimes 'out of the usual', as in by-election (or bye-election), 'an election to a single constituency occurring outside a General Election, when all constituencies are voted for'. A by-product is a result of a [manufacturing] process which is besides the main intended outcome: leather is a by-product of raising beef, and some housing districts are heated as a by-product of electricity generation. A byname is a subsidiary name, or nickname, and a byblow is the result of an illicit (often transient) sexual affair: 'an illegitimate child', 'a bastard'.
      • Sometimes the prefix by(e)- means other things, as in bystander, 'one who stands by', 'a passive spectator', and a byline is 'a line [of print] giving the name of the journalist by whom the article was written'. A bypass is a major road, one which passes by a town or city without taking traffic through it. The adjective bygone ('from that which has gone by') means 'past', 'former': those who wish to use it as a trigger for nostalgia sometimes spell it bye-gone.
  • Bye (you may want to consult AWE's page on Goodbye) is
    • an alternative spelling of by when it is used as an adjective or in combinations (see above) -
      • confusingly, different house rules encode different practices in choosing by- and bye- (and whether or not to hyphenate). Burchfield's Fowler reports OUP's house style, adding that "The spellings byelaw and bye-election are preferred by some other publishing houses". (OUP has by-law and by-election.) Writers referring to AWE are advised to use the House Rules of their readers - publishers, academic departments or whoever they may be.
    • In sporting circles, the noun 'a bye' can be:
      • a 'free passage' into the next round of a knock-out competition: in the professional world, usually because an opponent has withdrawn, and in the amateur world sometimes because not enough people have entered; OR
      • in cricket, a run awarded to the batting side not for their batting skill but because, once bowled, it has eluded the fielders and allowed the batsmen to run.
    • in bye-law, it is derived from the Danish word byrlaw ('the law or custom of a village or settlement') in the Old English period.

Some phrases in which the spelling varies between different house styles:

  • By the way and by the bye are equivalent variants of the common phrase meaning 'in passing', which originally was more closely tied to casual encounters or sights, etc, met during a journey - 'on the wayside'. The former has given rise to the abbreviation in texting btw.
  • Bye bye is a common abbreviation in informal English for good-bye.
  • Bye-byes is a common way of saying 'sleep' to young children, particularly in the phrasal verb 'to go bye-byes', meaning 'to go to bed'. It may be that the adult intends to say 'farewell' to the child, although OED describes it as a "A sound used to lull a child to sleep".
  • By and by, which originally (in the fourteenth century) meant 'in due order', 'one after another', had come by the sixteenth century to its current meaning of 'soon', 'shortly' or 'before long'.
  • By and large, which in current English nearly always means 'in general', 'without going into detail' was, in the days of sailing ships, a technical term meaning 'close-hauled' - but not too closely; with the sails comfortably full.
  • A by-form is a term used in etymology and other linguistic studies, meaning "a collateral and sometimes less frequent form" (OED); 'a variant from the usually accepted, or conventional, form'.