Why “Colonel” Is Pronounced “Kernel”

With exceptions to almost every grammar rule and confounding phrases, English is indeed a pain in the neck for every non-native speaker trying to understand the pronunciation of certain words.

Take all those anarchic spellings and silent letters for example: I mean, why there’s a “D” in the word “Fridge” but not in the “Refrigerator”? They even made the pronunciation of the word “Pronunciation” confusing – “Pronounce” has an “O” which is absent from “Pronunciation”.

Another notable example is of course, the word “Colonel” which is pronounced “Kernel”. This word in particular is quite peculiar and follows no rules: how on Earth, can a word that clearly has two “O’s” and two “L’s” be pronounced as “Kernel”? (the article continues after the ad)

Well, we decided to look into it and here’s the reason.

The Italians

The word ‘colonel’ first appeared in the 15th century and comes the Italian “colonello” which itself comes from the Latin “columna” – the Latin word for column. This is because the colonello rank was used for the commander of a column of troops. They were called that way because the Italian army was supposedly so well coordinated that it resembled a building’s columns:

Photo: Carlo Raso / Flickr

The French

And then came the French. In the late 15th century the word was adopted by the French, who translated and converted it to “coronel”. Why? Well, because these things happen. In fact, in linguistics, there’s a name for this procedure – it’s called dissemination and it’s the exact same reason (just the opposite process) the Latin word “Peregrinus” became “Pilgrim” in English (“R” was substituted with “L”). So, how did “colonel” and “coronel” became “kernel”?

The British

When the word made it into the English language in the mid-16th century, the British went with the French word – the one with the “R”. This makes sense, considering the strained (and often extremely intense) relationship between the two countries. Initially, the word was used as in France (“coronel”) but then it was bastardized with the English accent and ended up being pronounced as “kernel”.

Interestingly, by the late 16th century, English scholars began translating old Italian treatises and found out that the word was actually “colonel” and not “coronel”. Due to this evolution, the French replaced the “R” and their word was switched back to the original “colonel”. The British, however, British were too rebellious (and proud) to do so. Hence, despite replacing the official spelling, they kept pronouncing the word in the old way – “kernel”.

And that is why we even today, pronounce the word “colonel” as “kernel”. Go figure!

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: How Come ‘Hank’ Is Short For ‘Henry’?      

Photo: Tyndall Air Force Base
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: colonel (n.) | Why Is Colonel Pronounced With an R? And More Questions From Our Readers | Why Is ‘Colonel’ Pronounced ‘Kernel’? | Why Is ‘Colonel’ Pronounced ‘Ker’nel?’

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