The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Word Origins

Today is Sunday, but I felt like making a brief blog post about something I recently learned in one of my vocational texts. I am reading about balanced literacy, in terms of philosophy and practice, and one of the sections discusses the mechanics of teaching writing. In so doing, the author makes this point about spelling conventions:

Some words are phonetic. Several are not. And there are some words that used to be phonetic but, due to being truncated, they have acquired silent letters that are purely semantic, rather than having any syntactic relevance. For example:

  • The g in sign is silent for no other reason than sign is a truncated form of the word signature.
  • Likewise, the silent b in bomb exists simply because the word is derived from bombardment.

I don’t know why I didn’t know this before, or, rather, why I wasn’t aware of it. Ah, English, what a strange mistress you are.

One response

  1. gfe

    And according to the Online Etymology Dictionary’s entry on “limb,” “the parasitic -b began to appear late 1500s for no reason.” The same goes for “thumb.”

    May 2, 2011 at 8:56 am

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