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

by • March 11, 2014

English, spelling, February, WednesdayEnglish 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 5th century many related Germanic dialects fused, 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 11th century, English was increasingly influenced by what is known as the Romance languages, or the group of languages descended from Latin.

Specifically, the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th 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 is not technically considered a Romance Language itself. 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 most months has Latin linguistic roots, derived from the month of ‘februarius’ 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 46BC. This new Julian calendar, which divided the year in 365 days divided into 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 5th and 6th 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, potentially because of an increased linguistic influence of French. Anyway, considering that there has been a ‘d’ in Wednesday for roughly the past 2,000 years, it probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Furthermore, most Brits actually do pronounce the ‘d’ in Wednesday and, technically, it is linguistically correct to do so. 

Pterodactyl.

The name of 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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