Why do 'Wednesday' and 'February' have such peculiar spellings?

English has borrowed enormously from other languages and this may be the reason for its strange spellings and pronunciations. Find out why the first 'd' in Wednesday and 'r' in February are silent

Published: 10th December 2018 03:02 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th December 2018 03:02 PM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose.

By Online Desk

The English language has some bizarre spellings and pronunciations as part of its vocabulary, and yes, we have mostly made our peace with it. But, ever wondered why there is that extra 'd' in Wednesday (pronounced: 'Wens-day') and 'r' in February (pronounced 'Feb-yoo-air-ee' although 'Feb-ru-air-ee' is also acceptable in Britain)?

English, spoken by around 370 million people across the world today, started off as a West Germanic language (still is). Germanic settlers brought the language to the English coast and it eventually gained a stronghold in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England. 

English has continued to be influenced by many languages like Latin, Greek, German, Spanish and Sanskrit and is commonly known as a “borrowing language.”

Odin's Wednesday

Anglo-Saxon god Odin and his sons Thor and Loki are super popular now, thanks to Marvel. But there is much more to these mythological characters than just family drama and protection of Asgard

Odin, known as 'Woden' in Old English, is the Norse god associated with wisdom, poetic inspiration and fury. Not just that, he is prominent throughout the history of Germanic people and even regarded as the founding figure in some texts. 

So, 'Wednesday' is 'Woden's day'. Starting with Old English, Woden's day has gone through various spellings—Wodnesdaeg, Weodnesdei, Wenysday, Wonysday, Weddinsday. Shakespeare tried 'Wensday' but it didn't stick. And hence, Odin continues to have a day of the week in his honour. 

February's dissimilation

February, like the names of most months, has Latin roots. The name actually comes from the festival of 'Februum', a purification ritual celebrated during the month. 

This evolved into 'February', but the first 'r' has remained silent for the last 150 years (or even longer). This is because of the basic linguistic process of dissimilation, where one of two similar sounds gets omitted if they are too close together. 

Want more examples? Notice the left out first r's in these common words: Surprise, governor, particular berserk, caterpillar. Well, what can we say, English is a bizarre language. 

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Comments(1)

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  • Norman Paterson

    I have to say that I *do* pronounce that first D in Wednesday
    1 month ago reply
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