The New York Times must have a shortage of e’s in its type font. That is the only explanation I can think of for Christopher Buckley’s recent satirical op-ed piece that referred to a hairdresser “dying her ladies’ locks with Egyptian henna.” All together now, class: dying is the present participle of die, an intransitive verb that means to “pass from physical life, cease to exist, disappear, sink, languish, stop.” None of those meanings suggest themselves as anything a hairdresser—even a satirical one—would do to a client’s tresses.
I suspect what Mr. Buckley and the slipshod editors on the Times copy desk intended to say was dyeing, the present participle of dye, which means to "impart and new and often permanent color to." Oh, for want of an e, the world was lost!
The e in “dye” and “dyeing” is our good old friend Silent E. Tom Lehrer’s song about that character didn’t get around to “dyeing,” although he did point out that Silent E could turn a dam into a dame, but when he tried the same thing on Sam it came out the same.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, whose hair is dying but is not yet either dead or dyed, pays his tribute to the English language’s favorite letter in this Owed to E.
Hail to thee, blithe, brilliant E!
Silent though you often be.
Like white wine? Please have some more—
See those e’s you can ignore?
Noisy letters can’t keep quiet,
Some can cause a jangling riot,
Such as f, j, q, r, v—
Rest in peace with silent E.