Spaying and Neutering

By Maeve Maddox

A local public service announcement invites listeners to telephone for further information “about spay and neutering.”

A Web search finds numerous examples of the verb spay joined with the participle form:

This vet clinic in SW Portland offers low-cost spay and neutering for cats and dogs.

Pet Spay and Neutering Program–Just Fix It

[USDA] provides a list of programs in each state that provides low cost or free spay and neutering services for cats.

Several institutions and organizations offer help for pet spay and neutering or low-cost service. 

The present participle of the verb spay is spaying. The examples should read “spaying and neutering”:

This vet clinic in SW Portland offers low-cost spaying and neutering for cats and dogs.

Pet Spaying and Neutering Program–Just Fix It

[USDA] provides a list of programs in each state that provides low cost or free spaying and neutering services for cats.

Several institutions and organizations offer help for pet spaying and neutering or low-cost service. 

An easy way to avoid misusing the word spay in announcements of this kind would be to use only the word neuter. Unlike spay, which refers to the removal of an animal’s ovaries, the word neuter can mean either “to castrate” or “to spay.”
 
The past and present participle forms of the verb spay are frequently mispronounced and misspelled:

Incorrect: I got my cat spaded and she got [a] hernia from the stitches.
Correct : I got my cat spayed and she got [a] hernia from the stitches.

Incorrect: I am contemplating spading and declawing my kitten when she turns 6 months old. 
Correct : I am contemplating spaying and declawing my kitten when she turns 6 months old.

The past tense forms of both verbs–neuter and spay–end in -ed: neutered and spayed. The words are pronounced [nyoo-terd] or [noo-terd]) and [spayd].

Speakers who mispronounce and misspell the word spayed as spaded are perhaps confused by the existence of the word spade [spayd], which functions as both noun and verb.

The verb spade (to dig) has a past form in -ed:

If you did not plow or spade the garden site in the fall, turn the soil in spring as soon as it is dry enough to work.

The Alcotts thrived as Bronson spaded the earth for his acre of garden.

An interesting etymological fact is that both words–spay and spade–derive from spatha, the Latin word for a broad-bladed sword.

The verb spay entered English from French espeier, “to cut with a sword.” Its earliest meaning in English was “to kill a deer with a sword,” as in these directions in a 1425 hunting manual: “spay him [the deer] even behind the shoulder forward to the heart.” The same manual also uses spay to mean removing the ovaries of an animal.

The word spay got its name from the cutting aspect of a sword, whereas the word spade got its name from a sword’s tapered shape.

It may help to keep the words spay and spade apart by remembering that animals are spayed with delicate medical instruments having no resemblance to broad garden implements.

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