Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Wick-ED Fun Pronunciations. Deviled Eggs.

Episode Summary

896. If you've ever wondered why we pronounce the "-ed" at the end of "wicked" (and "jagged," "beloved" and more), but don't at the end of words like "aggrieved," this show is for you! You'll also discover why "wicked" is different from "naked" and what's weird about the phrase "wicked witch." Plus, you'll learn why we call some food "deviled."

Episode Notes

896. If you've ever wondered why we pronounce the "-ed" at the end of "wicked" (and "jagged," "beloved" and more), but don't at the end of words like "aggrieved," this show is for you! You'll also discover why "wicked" is different from "naked" and what's weird about the phrase "wicked witch." Plus, you'll learn why we call some food "deviled."

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Episode Transcription

Grammar Girl here. I'm Mignon Fogarty, and you can think of me as your friendly guide to the English language. We talk about writing, history, rules, and cool stuff. Today, in honor of it being Halloween month, we're going to talk about why we pronounce the "-ed" the way we do in the word "wicked" and others like it, and about deviled eggs.

Why do we pronounce the "-ed" the way we do at the end of the word "wicked"?

by Neal Whitman

Listen to this passage:

I stood naked on the rugged, jagged precipice, and faced my accursed, aged foe with dogged resolve. The wretched, wicked wizard stretched a crooked finger from a ragged sleeve. As he began to mutter the incantation, I thought of my beloved Hildegarde.

How’s that to set you on the edge of your seat? Aside from the gripping drama and suspense, what did you notice? Maybe you noticed that it had way too many adjectives. True enough, but there’s more. Every one of those adjectives—naked, rugged, jagged, accursed, aged, dogged, wretched, wicked, crooked, ragged, and beloved—has the same unusual pronunciation of the suffix –ed. If these words were pronounced like most English words ending in –ed, they’d be pronounced /nekt/, /rʌɡd/, /ʤæɡd/, /əkɝst/, /eʤd/, /dɑɡd/, /wɪkt/, /rɛʧt/, /krʊkt/, /ræɡd/, and /bɪlʌvd/. That’s because usually, the –ed suffix is just pronounced as a d or t at the end of the last syllable of the word it gets suffixed to. It’s pronounced as a d when the base word ends in a vowel or a voiced consonant; for example, agreed, grabbed, hummed, raved, writhed, sailed, roared, leaned, buzzed, bridged, hugged, and longed. It’s pronounced as a t when the base word ends in a voiceless consonant; for example, flapped, puffed, toothed, hissed, scratched, and looked

Sometimes the –ed suffix is pronounced as its own syllable. This happens when the base word already ends in a d or t sound; for example, floated and braided. But none of the adjectives we’re talking about have a d or t sound before the –ed suffix, so it’s strange that their –ed suffix should be pronounced as a separate syllable. 

Instead, they have a mixture of consonants before the -ed. Most of them have a k sound there (e.g., naked, wicked, and crooked), or they have a hard sound before the -ed (e.g., ragged, rugged, jagged, and dogged). A couple of them have a ch or soft g sound before the –ed: wretched and aged. One more has an s there: accursed. Lastly, there’s beloved, whose base ends with a v sound. 

Furthermore, I didn’t even include all the adjectives with this pronunciation quirk in my sentences. I left out learned and blessed, and still others whose pronunciations vary depending on dialect: /fɔrkəd/vs. /fɔrkt/ [forked], /pikəd/ vs. /pikt/ [peaked], /əlɛʤəd/ vs. /əlɛʤd/ [alleged], /səpozəd/ vs. /səpozd/ [supposed],/lɛgəd/ vs. /lɛgd/ [legged], and /strɑɪpəd/ vs. /strɑɪpt/ [striped]. And those are just the ones that I knew about. 

I was surprised to learn that as late as 1839, the words booked, tusked, tressed, scabbed, crabbed, chubbed, stubbed, shagged, snagged, scrubbed, scragged, hawked, and stiff-necked were also pronounced with a separate syllable for –ed, at least according to a book published that year called A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language, by John Walker.

In short, there’s nothing that these consonants have in common that separates them from other consonants. 

So is there some kind of rule for when we pronounce the –ed suffix as its own syllable? There are a few observations that can be made, but it’s not going to be definitive. 


Sometimes the adjective is pronounced differently depending on the context. For example, if you’re talking about old people, the pronunciation /eʤd/ is more likely, but if you’re talking about old cheese or wine, you probably want /eʤəd/. If you’re talking about higher education, you can have /lɝnəd/ scholars and /lɝnəd/ societies, but if you’re talking about psychology, you might be talking about /lɝnd/ behaviors.

Part of Speech

One thing we can say about these adjectives is that some of them are derived from past participles of verbs, and these past participles are pronounced as we would expect. For example, you might talk about a /blɛsəd/ event, but you wouldn’t say the priest has /blɛsəd/ a house; you’d say he has /blɛst/ it. You might have a /lɝnəd/ person for an advisor, but you wouldn’t say, “I have /lɝnəd/ my ABCs”; you’d say you’d /lɝnd/ them. 

Others of these adjectives are derived by putting the suffix –ed on a noun instead of a verb. For example, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word dogged comes from the noun dog and the –ed suffix and means having the characteristics of a dog. In this case, the –ed suffix isn’t turning a verb into a past participle; it’s turning a noun directly into an adjective. (That’s English for you: It takes one perfectly good suffix and overloads it with different jobs. Just look how it treats the suffix –s: It shows present-tense singular in goes, plurality in cars, and possession in Shawn’s.)


Of course, one well-known trait of English nouns and verbs is that nouns often turn into verbs, and verbs often turn into nouns, without any difference in form or pronunciation. That makes things more complicated. Take the adjective crooked. The archaic verb crook meant to put a bend in something. Turned into a noun, crook referred to such a bend. So it’s not clear whether the adjective crooked came from the verb crook, and referred to something bent, or from the noun crook, and meant something that had a bend? Is there even a difference? Most of these adjectives fall into this gray area, where we don’t know whether the noun or the verb came first, or even if we do, we don’t know which one gave rise to the adjective ending in –ed

This is true not only for adjectives ending in –ed that have the strange pronunciation, but also for those that are pronounced exactly as we’d expect. For example, there’s the verb outfit, and the noun outfit. Does the adjective outfitted come from the verb outfit or the noun outfit? Unless you’ve looked it up in a dictionary, all you can say is that the adjective outfitted came from attaching the suffix –ed to either a verb or a noun.

Now here’s a surprise: Some of our unusual adjectives weren’t created this way. One of them is wicked. You might wonder if the word has anything to do with the noun wick, the thing that you burn in a candle or an oil lamp. Actually, no. You can put the –ed suffix on wick, and talk about a /wɪkt/ candle or /wɪkt/ lamp, but in those cases, the word has just one syllable, as you’d expect. According to the OED, the source for wicked is the Old English noun wicca, meaning “wizard.” The feminine form of this word is the source of our word witch. This noun wicca had an adjective form, wick, which picked up an –ed suffix for no apparent reason. So etymologically, a wicked witch is nothing more than a witch-like witch. Objections over how this meaning of wicked evolved to mean “evil” are well-founded, but that’s a bigger topic than we can get into here. 

Another example of –ed turning an adjective into a longer adjective is wretched. It comes from an Old English word that’s pronounced basically the same way as the noun wretch is today, except that the w wasn’t silent in Old English. As a noun in Old English, a wretch was an exile, or someone banished from their homeland. As an adjective wretch, it meant what wretched means today, but only gained the superfluous suffix sometime around the year 1200.

An interesting side note is that one of the various spellings of wretched before it settled into its standard spelling was R-A-T-C-H-I-T, a spelling that has been resurrected in present-day African American English as an insult and also reappropriated as a term of empowerment. It’s also spelled R-A-T-C-H-E-T. 

So we’ve talked about the suffix –ed attaching to verbs and nouns to produce adjectives, and in odd cases, attaching to other adjectives to produce adjectives. But naked is the strangest case yet, because its –ed ending isn’t a suffix! In Old English, it was nacod, spelled N-A-C-O-D. It wasn’t derived from an existing noun or verb, or even an existing adjective. It was just an indivisible word that meant not having any clothes on. The OED does ultimately trace the word back to a past participial form of a verb, but by the time we get back that far, we’re not talking Old English anymore, or even proto-Germanic; we’re talking Proto-Indo-European, the common ancestor of hundreds of languages of the Old World. 

In her book English Words: A Linguistic Introduction (2006)Heidi Harley summarizes the situation with these adjectives by noting that the pronunciation of –ed as its own syllable “was often preserved in words that were common in idioms, poems, or ritual speech, where language learners were more likely to repeat the string exactly as they heard their elders say it” (p. 156). In the end, probably the most accurate thing we can say about these words is that they escaped by historical accident the pronunciation changes that affected other words, but like other irregularities in language, the less they’re used, the more likely they are to fall to regularity.

That segment was written by Neal Whitman, an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can search for him by name on Facebook, or find him on Twitter as @literalminded and on his blog at

Next, I have a listener question and a familect story.

"Hey, Grammar Girl. This is Jana from Central Arkansas. I'm a big fan of your podcast. I have two little familects and a question. My question is about this expression 'used to could,' like, 'I cannot parallel park anymore, but I used to could.' I think that's a Southern expression or maybe from Louisiana where I grew up. The two familects are cute ones from my nieces when they were little. They could not say 'deviled eggs.' So they said 'double eggs,' and it's stuck, and it makes a lot of sense because doubled eggs have a lot of work in them — double work. The other cute familect is 'baby suit' because they could not say 'bathing suit.' So if they wanted to go swimming. They put on their baby suit. That's what I've got. Thanks for the podcast. Have a great day. God bless."

Thanks, Jana!

From what I can gather, you're right that "used to could" is common in some southern dialects. It's very much like the double modals we talked about a few weeks ago, like "might could" as in "We might could go to the store later." It feels really similar, and although "used to" isn't always included in lists of modal verbs, I did find sources that say it can be a modal or has modal-like properties. I imagine you're likely to hear "used to could" in the same places where people say "might could." Thanks again for the call.

Some people say that "doubled eggs" is what called an egg corn. Eggcorns got their name in 2003 from a discussion on the Language Log website about a woman who misheard the word “acorn” as “eggcorn” and thought it made sense.

After that story, eggcorn came to mean replacing the right word with a different word that sounds the same—a homophone—that makes logical sense in the phrase, just like you think "doubled eggs" could make sense to a child because they're double the work.

And the story behind deviled eggs is actually interesting too! They're called "deviled" because they're made hot or spicy by adding mustard or pepper, and although I've only heard of deviled eggs, older citations in the Oxford English Dictionary contain references to deviled biscuits, deviled chicken, a spicy deviled sauce, and deviled almonds.

Also, your niece isn't the only one who calls them "doubled eggs." I found many, many sources online that say some Christians don't like to call them deviled eggs, so they call them other things instead like double eggs, angel eggs, salad eggs, stuffed eggs, or dressed eggs.

And then thinking about deviled eggs made me curious about devil's food cake. According to Etymonline, that name goes back to 1895 from a cookbook compiled by the Ladies' Aid Society of the Friends' Church in Wilmington, Ohio. Devil's food cake is a rich chocolate cake, and it's believed the name is meant to be in contrast to the light, white angel food cake.

Thanks again for your question and familect stories. They led me down some interesting paths and also made me hungry. I just put mustard on my shopping list to make deviled eggs, which I haven't had in years.

If you want to share the story of your familect, a family dialect or a word your family and only your family uses, call the voicemail line at 83-321-4-GIRL, and I might play it on the show.
Grammar Girl is a Quick and Dirty Tips podcast. Thanks to my audio engineer Nathan Semes and my editor Adam Cecil. Our ad operations specialist is Morgan Christianson, our digital operations specialist is Holly Hutchings, and our marketing and publicity assistant is Davina Tomlin, who took one parkour class and feels very cool about that.

And I’m Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl. You can find me on Twitter and YouTube as @GrammarGirl. That's all. Thanks for listening.