Originally posted by Splinemodel
Before 18th century, English spelling was not at all standardized, which perhaps led to English's completely non-uniform pronuniciation and grammar. So, in the true spirit of the overly dynamic English language, the spelling that is most frequent should be construed as the "correct" spelling. If our language were more like German, you might have a point about the pronunciation, but, alas, it is not.
Well, English spelling still
isn't standardized. But what most people mean when they talk about non-standard language in the c18 and before is that the alphabet hadn't quite sorted itself out. In the c17, for instance, no one was quite sure what to do with C vs K, so you see weirdness with C and K all over the place (e.g. "publick"). You also get holdover German elements like capitalizing Nouns and other Things that are either Persons, Places, or Things.
I don't have my OED on me at the moment, but I'll check when I get home from the office (jeez...why do I not keep my OED at my office?!) about when "gray" enters the language. I said it was the "proper" spelling simply because the word derives from the ME spelling "grei." But like I said, I'll have to check on which spelling is the earliest (and therefore the most long-lived). My money's on "grey."
But you are correct. English is a language governed by the masses, not by some impossible idea of "correctness."