"Bubba Watson tips his visor to the crowd after birdieing No. 18 during final round play at the Travelers Championship."
When I saw that recent newspaper photo caption, I was taken aback — not by Watson's startling come-from-behind victory, but by the spelling of "birdieing."
Three vowels in a row? That's as unusual as three birdies in a row. Was this a subpar performance by a copy editor?
The noun "birdie" is one of those cutesy little words sprinkled with an "-ie" suffix to add a dash of fun or diminution, e.g., weenie, footsie, commie, wheelie, veggie, bootie, townie, biggie, baddie, beanie. I could go on, but this column is a quickie.
Most of these nifty "-ie" words are never used as verbs, but golfers use "birdie" as a verb all the time. So how should we add "-ing" to "birdie"?
If it were spelled "birdy," we'd simply add "-ing" (birdying), as in "readying" and "tidying." And if the "ie" in "birdie" were pronounced as "eye," as in "tie" and "vie," we'd simply change the "ie" to "y" and add "-ing," as in "tying" and "vying."
But, alas, it's "birdie," not "birdy," and its "ie" is pronounced as "ee" not "eye." So "birdieing," as odd as it looks, is the best option. A Google Ngram search shows that "birdieing" is used nearly three times as often as "birdying."
Amazingly enough, the only other verbs I can think of with "-ie" endings pronounced as "ee" come from Scottish words used in golf: "stymie" and "caddie." (The Scots LOVE to add "-ie" to words; think of Robert Burns' "wee beastie.")
"Stymie" first appeared during the 1850s as a golf term for a situation in which an opponent's ball blocks the hole. But around 1900 its use expanded to denote any obstacle or obstruction, e.g., "In the House, the right-wing caucus is stymieing Speaker Paul D. Ryan's plan to pass a budget." (New York Times).
"Caddie," not to be confused with "caddy" (a small storage box or container), is a Scottish word that originally meant "a person who performs odd jobs" and eventually came to denote someone who carries the bag of a golfer.
But sportswriters disagree on its "-ing" form. Golf Digest renders it "caddieing," e.g., "Navarro has also had great moments while caddieing for Jeff Sluman," while Sports Illustrated favors "caddying," e.g., "He gestured toward the kid who had been caddying for him."
An Ngram search shows that "caddying" appears 30 times more often than "caddieing." Here's my "Hardy" endorsement: Stay far from the "caddieing" crowd.
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.