You’ll Never Guess the Origins of These 3 Bizarrely Spelled English Words

I'm fairly certain that the person who put the first R in February also decided how to spell Wednesday.

English is linguistically categorized as a West Germanic language. Though it is now the most widely spoken language in the world, English actually got a pretty small start.

In the fifth century, many related Germanic dialects fused together, collectively becoming what is now known as Old English. These dialects were brought to the eastern coast of England by Germanic settlers and eventually gained a stronghold in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England in what is now southeast Scotland.

Old English eventually evolved into Middle English as a result of invasion and interaction. Beginning in the eleventh century, English was increasingly influenced by the Romance languages, so-named because they descended from Latin, the language of the Romans.

Specifically, the Norman Conquest of England in the eleventh century facilitated a heavy borrowing from Norman French. As a result, vocabulary and spelling conventions began to evolve to more closely resemble those of a Latin-derived Romance language, even though English itself is not technically considered a Romance language. Furthermore, Latin was the academic and religious lingua franca of the day, which further facilitated the integration of Latin vocabulary into English.

English has continued to be influenced by a number of different languages and is commonly known as a “borrowing language.” The bizarre spelling of these three common English words aptly illustrate this fascinating phenomena:

February

Have you ever wondered why February has that random, silent first r?

Well, February, like the names of most months, has Latin roots. It descended from Februarius, a month in the ancient Roman calendar. The name actually comes from the festival of februum, a purification ritual celebrated during the month.

The ancient Roman calendar was eventually reformed by Julius Cesar in 46 BC. This new Julian calendar, which divided the year into 365 days and twelve months, is the foundation of our current Gregorian calendar.

Wednesday 

Most Americans don’t pronounce the d in Wednesday. But just because you can’t hear it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So where did this d come from? And why don’t we pronounce it?

As it turns out, Wednesday actually has Germanic linguistic origins. It is derived from the Old English word, Wōdnesdæg, which honors the Germanic god Wodan.

Wodan was one of the most important deities of Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic polytheism and was especially prominent in England during the fifth and sixth centuries, before Christianity fully took root. This explains the development of the word in Old English. Wodan corresponds to the ancient Roman deity of Mercury, for whom Wednesday is named in many Romance languages, including French (Mercredi), Italian (Mercoledì), and Spanish (Miércoles).

Interestingly, Wōdnesdæg evolved to Wednesdei in the transition from Old English to Middle English, possibly because of the increased linguistic influence from French. Anyway, considering that there has been a d in Wednesday for roughly the past two thousand years, it probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Furthermore, most Brits actually do pronounce the d in Wednesday. 

Pterodactyl

The name of an ancient flying reptile, this might just be the weirdest spelling in the entire English language. This word is actually of Greek origin, coming from pteron (wing) and daktylos (finger).

So why the references to wings and fingers? Well, the name actually refers to the unique way in which this reptile’s wings are supported by its fingers. Go figure!

What are your favorite bizarrely spelled words in the English language?

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67 comments
CatherineEdmends
CatherineEdmends

the r in February is NOT silent. Wednesday is  pretty well known if you actually read, and pterodactyl is a no brainer 

TonyLort
TonyLort

The non-pronunciation of the first r in February is a fairly recent phenomena that I believe comes from the lazy use of the language in general. It should not be silent.

claire
claire

We Brits do not pronounce the d in Wednesday. Not the first one at least!

CatherineEdmends
CatherineEdmends

@claire many of us in Australia do though - for shame Brits 

LisaDvorak
LisaDvorak

Kimberly Joki, you made two errors in this sentence: "The bizarre spelling of these three common English words aptly illustrate this fascinating phenomena." First, "spelling" is the subject of the sentence, so the verb should be "illustrates." Second, "phenomena" is plural; you're talking about one phenomenon.

kahni84
kahni84

I've always pronounced the first 'R' in February and people have teased me about it all my life. I will not change. :-)

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

@kahni84, good for you.  Those who tease you are simply demonstrating their ignorance.

Andy
Andy

@kahni84 Yep!  I was taught that it was correct to pronounce the R.  It still seems right to me.

Galamb
Galamb

I tend to pronounce the second month of the year like "Febrary". As for Pterodactyl, it's not uncommon for Greek based words to start with a P (especially PS, as the Greek alphabet has one letter for the sound "ps"). Pneumatic, Ptomaine, Pseudo, Psoriasis, Psyche, Psalms...

Ursw
Ursw

I don't think the r in February is silent. At least according to the sources I checked :-/

CheeryLittlebottom
CheeryLittlebottom

Most Brits don't pronounce the D in Wednesday anymore. Older people, posher people, and people from the north of England (specifically Yorkshire) do sometimes pronounce it. My theory about why Yorkshire people pronounce the D is that their speech is closest to older speech patterns and York was a Viking stronghold. They also pronounce the E in veg-E-tables.

rogertodd96
rogertodd96

Well, most Americans certainly are a bit lazy in their pronunciations of these words, much like the word 'probably' which I occasionally hear as 'probly' and 'laboratory' as simply, labrotory'.

Aidan Howard
Aidan Howard

@rogertodd96 To be intellectually and morally honest, I must admit that Americans are not alone (you're just the easiest targets). In my own country (New Zealand), we are just as bad, with our "libry" and "tempory" and "contempory" and "secetry". There is actually a word which describes this. It is "haplology", the saying once that which should be said twice. I hate bad spelling not for the spelling itself, but because it indicates that the person could not be bothered going back over what they have written before they send it (and they can't be bothered getting a little better educated). I hate bad grammar not for the grammar itself, but because it indicates that the person is not thinking before they speak. And I hate bad pronunciation not for the pronunciation itself, but because it indicates that the person is not pacing themselves and trying to listen to what the other person might be hearing.

joyce a walker
joyce a walker

The first r in February is not silent in Scots' English! We roll our r's, so use all we can find!

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

Another common mispronunciation that I find grating is for the word, "squirrel."  It has two syllables and is pronounced in two syllables, not the single syllable, "squerl."

dei_hime
dei_hime

@TedHopkins There's a thing you might have heard of, but clearly don't really understand. It's called "dialect." Dialectical differences do not equal "mispronunciations," even if they might have originally evolved from them (them, and when language learners mishear words, too).

Bob
Bob

I pronounce the 'r' in February and the 'd' in Wednesday. So I'm not sure what this article is all about.

StephanieHadler
StephanieHadler

@Bob I too say Feb-ru-ary, but I don't say Wed-nez-day. I pronounce it Wenzday, which is what the article is talking about.

BritCrit
BritCrit

I'm English and have never heard anyone pronounce the d in Wednesday

Hoshi
Hoshi

@BritCrit I am English and I do, I come from Cheshire with roots in Manchester though and pronounce it "Wedensday" Which I guess is more similar to Wodensday than most people.

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

Thanks @Hoshi, that is just they way I pronounce it; just like you, I switch the "e" and the "n" around in my pronunciation.

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

My favourite bizarrely spelled words in the English language have to be the military ranks of Lieutenant (pronounced "leftenant" by all except Americans), lacking that "f", and Colonel (written in three syllables but pronounced in just two as "kernel"), lacking that "r."

carolinestarr1105
carolinestarr1105

Wed-nez-dae, where in the English speaking world is it pronounced like that? I'll allow Wendz-dae.

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

@carolinestarr1105, Wed-enz-dae but, yes, I do often hear the "n" moved it front of the first "d," and may have done it myself when I was a child.  I think people around me do this more commonly than than leaving the first "d" out completely.

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

Nonsense, the first "r" in February is pronounced, as is the first "d" in Wednesday.  I am Canadian and I have done so all my life (nearly 70 years), although I must admit that my pronounciation of Wednesday switches the "n" and the "e."

BritCrit
BritCrit

I'm in Ontario.news to me.

dei_hime
dei_hime

@TedHopkins Canada's a big country. Maybe it's just your area. I've yet to hear them pronounced where I've lived in Manitoba and British Columbia. Don't recall any of our Albertan friends from the big cities using them either...

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

@dei_hime @TedHopkins I'm born, raised, and life-long British Columbian.  Yes, I do hear February pronounced without the first "r" and Wednesday pronounced without the first "d" enough to know it as a common and grating error.

Aidan Howard
Aidan Howard

In February, you refer to the "silent first r". This is incorrect. The first "r" IS pronounced... unless you are lazy or ill-educated... or American. It has crept into the American language, even appearing in some dictionaries. But when it does, it is still given as the second, less preferred pronunciation. The authorities on actual English (Oxford and Collins) do not even entertain "feb'yoo" as an option. But Craig Paterson (below) is wrong. The first "d" in Wednesday has not been pronounced since the mid 1800s.

dei_hime
dei_hime

@Aidan Howard Fun fact: plenty of regions in Canada actually go our of their way to teach the first 'r' in February as silent in schools. And plenty of university-educated, highly literate people pronounce it as feb-you-ary. Including linguists. If you were as literate and educated as you thought you were, you might have known as much.

Andy
Andy

@Aidan Howard I work with volunteers from all over the English-speaking world.  Hearing the "d" in Wednesday no longer seems odd to me, so I don't even notice who pronounces it and who doesn't.

CatherineEdmends
CatherineEdmends

@dei_hime @Aidan Howard elitist claptrap - oh we literate people don't pronounce it - then you have been taught  the wrong way -  highly literate my arse - get off your high horse 

Craig Paterson
Craig Paterson

I don't agree with these mispronounciations.  Correct speakers always pronounce the 'r' ln February and the'd' in Wednesday.

TedHopkins
TedHopkins

@Craig Paterson, how right you are.

Ruth Salt
Ruth Salt

I pronounce both the 'r' in February and the 'd' in Wednesday. Is that not correct ?

Lou
Lou

February does not have a silent first R. It is just pronounced poorly, and correct pronunciation has fallen out of favor. Lots of lazy mouths.

Charlie
Charlie

Seeing pterodactyl reminds me of the derivation of the word helicopter - helico (spiral) + pter (wing). Except that the p in pter wound up getting pronounced in helicopter.

BritCrit
BritCrit

That's North America for youm. Same as pediatric instead of paediatric etc

BritCrit
BritCrit

Sorry typo. You not youm

carolinestarr1105
carolinestarr1105

The most widely spoken language IS English, in that it is spoken by more people. Chinese is the most common FIRST language. Also Brits pronounce the first r in February, but we pronounce the day of the week Wensday. Oh and we pronounce the second I in aluminium too.

pjbrown330
pjbrown330

@carolinestarr1105 Saying that you pronounce the second I in aluminium seems to imply that Americans do not, which is not precisely true since we do not have a second I in Aluminum to pronounce.





dei_hime
dei_hime

@carolinestarr1105 Actually, in North American English, the second "i" in "aluminium" isn't actually there. It's spelled "aluminum." Could be an East Coast thing to spell and pronounce it like the Brits (just like "ruff" instead of "roof"), but that's just my guess (the former "aluminum" thing, not the "roof" one. That one I know for a fact).

StephanieHadler
StephanieHadler

@carolinestarr1105 @pjbrown330 It would be interesting how the words came to be in the US and in the UK. Aluminum and aluminium. The first time I heard a Brit say it, I thought... weird! But then, I wasn't terribly well-traveled then and hadn't heard much British English spoken. Oh, such a world that opened up. :-)

Aidan Howard
Aidan Howard

@dei_hime @carolinestarr1105 Technically, there was a difference. Aluminium (with the I) referred to the chemical and mineral itself. The American aluminum (without the I) referred originally to the processed ore for its industrial use. Eventually, Americans lost sight of the distinction and simply came to use aluminum for both. But I believe (and I may need to be corrected on this) that on American periodic tables in chemistry classes and in chemistry books, they still have the -ium ending for the chemical. (Having said that, there are a couple of new internet sites which are failing even there.)

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