By Curtis Honeycutt
I hope that headline grabbed your attention. As much as I’d love to see a reunion tour of Justin Timberlake and the other guys, the closest thing to an NSYNC lyric you’re going to get today is in this article. It might sound crazy, but it isn’t a lie; today we’re reviewing the words “buy,” “bye” and “by.”
As much as I wanted to quote the chorus of NSYNC’s turn-of-the-millennium chart-topper “Bye Bye Bye” word-for-word, I have some serious grammatical grumbles with the song’s subpar syntax. Feel free to re-discover the swoon-worthy lyrics for yourself in your search engine of choice.
The words “buy,” “bye” and “by” are easy to switch around, especially because they only require a few letters and they’re pronounced identically. It’s kind of like trying to distinguish the boy bands from the late ‘90s and early aughts from each other – they all sound the same.
The primary definition of the word “buy” is to purchase something with money: Pat, I’d like to buy a vowel. If something is considered a bargain, someone might say it’s a “good buy.” Another definition of “buy” is to believe or accept something: Byron doesn’t buy the fact that the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon.
The word “bye” has its own set of definitions. The primary definition of “bye” comes from the word “goodbye,” which is a compound word combining the words “good” and “bye.” The word “goodbye” originated as the contraction “Godbwye,” which was a shortened form of “God be with ye.” Today, we just say “bye,” but the word’s roots lie in the pious society of 16th-century England. “Bye” can also mean when a player or team advances to the next round of a competition without playing: The Chiefs got a bye in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
“By” may be the most versatile of this word trio. As a preposition, “by” means “near,” “toward,” “no later than,” or to indicate the person who created a work, just to name a few. As an adverb, “by” can mean “past,” “near,” or “aside.” “By” can also function as an adjective, meaning “being off the main route.” By golly, the word “by” can get by in just about any sentence!
By now, there are even a few more homophones for “buy,” “bye” and “by.” The word “bi” stands alone in the dictionary as an abbreviated way to describe someone who is bisexual. Finally, you can travel to the tiny Swedish town of “Bie,” although it may be pronounced like “bee.” Now that we’ve said all our “byes,” it’s time to standby until the next installment of Grammar Guy.
—Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.