Monday, April 19, 2010

Treasurys vs. Treasuries -- Which is the right spelling?

What's the right way to spell the plural of Treasury, as in U.S. Treasury bond?

Should it be "Treasurys," following the rule that the members of the Murphy family become Murphys? Or should it follow the normal rules of creating plurals for words that end in the letter y?

I panicked when I saw "Treasurys" in The Wall Street Journal. Eek! Have I been spelling the word wrong for 20-odd years?

However, I quickly discovered that opinions are split. When I Googled the terms, there were 2.2 million results for Treasuries vs. only 1.5 million for Treasurys. 

The evidence for Treasuries
Here's the rule that would typically apply. "...if a word ends in a -y that isn't preceded by a vowel, the plural is formed by omitting the -y and substituting -ies...," according to Garner's Modern American Usage. Garner makes an exception for proper names ending in y. He agrees that Murphy becomes Murphys.

Does Treasury qualify as a proper name? Proper names are usually personal names--such as Murphy--or geographic names--such as Washington, D.C. Following this reasoning, Treasuries makes sense.

My friend, financial editor Harriett Magee, found that sources including the Barron's Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms agreed with Treasuries. Plus, her spell-checker flagged Treasurys as a mistake. 

If you prefer Treasurys...
You've got some high-powered company if you stick with Treasurys. When The Wall Street Journal spells it that way, that legitimizes it in my eyes.

If you can't bear not knowing what's 100% correct, then use the workaround that Harriett Magee suggests. Refer to Treasury bonds, Treasury notes, and so on. It's bit wordy, but correct. 

Follow this advice, no matter what you decide
It's important to use your words consistently in your corporate communications. Pick one spelling and stick with it. 

Consider creating a corporate style guide that lists preferred spellings. It's a lot easier to have an authoritative source for your company than to try to keep the rules in your head.


My thanks go to David Glen, senior vice president at Boston Private Bank, for raising this question.
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

7 comments:

  1. Another interesting example: What is the plural of Rocky referring to the Rocky Mountains? It's always Rockies. I don't recall ever seeing it as Rockys. Maybe it's because Rockys looks so wrong -- kind of like Treasurys looks so wrong.

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  2. Ooh, interesting post. I just sent it to a lawyer friend who teaches writing at a law school to see what she thinks. Love these sorts of debates. (I'm a geek, I'll admit it.)

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  3. RB, you're not the only one. This topic received many comments on LinkedIn and Twitter. I enjoyed researching it, too.

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  4. Very interesting, thank you for making this information available.

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  5. DC's example of "Rockys" nails it, but doesn't say why. The reason is, "Rocky" is an adjective, unlike "Kennedy" but very like "Treasury" when used to modify "Bills", "Bonds", "Notes" &c.

    For the WSJ to use "Treasurys" is mere foppery, flaunting their ill-gotten gains.

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  6. this came up today in SF Gate and it does not look right. Should be treasuries.

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  7. (1) "Treasury" is used as a noun rather than an adjective, in the (particularly fixed-income) investment space. It is a particular thing in that context, just as, say, an IBM call. Hence, it's closer to "Murphy" and "Kennedy" than "Rocky".
    (2) The apparent misspelling is deliberate, I've heard, to give those securities a nickname that distinguishes them from the general plural of "Treasury", as in "multiple Treasury departments".
    (3) I have a friend who has named her cat "Gypsy" although she chooses to spell it "Jipsy". In the context of referring specifically to her cat and not to the general population subset, her spelling isn't wrong.

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