In light of the "i before e except after c" spelling rule, why is weird spelled the way it is? Does it have anything to do with "wer" being the root of weird, or does it have to do with the spelling signaling the original source of the word?
Our adjective weird
does not appear in English until late, the 15th century. It is the attributive use of the much older noun weird
, meaning "fate, destiny". The noun occurs very early in Old English, usually spelled with some variant of <wyrd> or <wird>, never lt&;weird>. In the 14th century a spellings with <e> begin to appear: <werd(e), werid>. The first instance of the <weird> spelling of the noun does not occur until the 16th century.
The adjective use of the word does not appear until the 15th century, and then always in association with the three weird sisters and with various spellings. (Our modern sense of "curious, uncanny, eerie" is clearly generalized from the presumed appearance and nature of the three sisters.) In the OED the first citation with the <weird> spelling of the adjective is in 1577 from Holinshed's History of Scotland: "The prophesie of three women supposing to be the weird sisters or feiries".
The many different spellings indicate considerable variation in pronunciation among dialects. Indecision between <ie> and <ei> spellings is fairly common in many words in early English; for instance, thief was earlier sometimes spelled <theif>. Such indecision
could suggest variation between a pronunciation close to what today we would call long <e> (as in beer) and one close to long <a> (as in bare. Possibly the pronunciation with long <e>, our modern pronunciation, converged with <ei>, the spelling for long <a>; but that is just a surmise. Our odd spelling of the noun-verb ache probably represents a similar convergence between the pronunciation of the early verb ake with the spelling of the early noun atch.