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Today's Word



Jul 4, 2016
This week’s theme
Words with initial silent letters

This week’s words

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Is there life in outer space? What’s the meaning of life? Is it the letter s or c that is silent in the word ‘scent’? Great mysteries of life!

Fortunately, we have the answer to at least one of them.

Over its long and checkered history spanning 600 years, the word scent has changed its appearance more readily than a chameleon getting ready for a party. It has appeared as “sent” and “cent”, among other forms. In Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare has a huntsman say that his hound “pick’d out the dullest sent.”

That still doesn’t tell us the answer. Well, etymology to the rescue. The word scent comes to us from Latin sentire (to feel) which became French sentir (to smell), before making its way to English.

So why this hotchpotch of spelling? To understand this we have to realize that language was spoken long before writing came on the scene.

Few people were literate. When it came to writing, any spelling (sent/cent/scent/etc.) was good as long as it sounded right. Shakespeare spelled his name every which way -- the plaque on his tomb spells it as “Shakspeare”.

Eventually spelling became standardized. Among many competing spellings, one took scepter as the official spelling of the word, not necessarily because it was more virtuous than the rest.

This week we’ll see a few more words with silent letters.


(NAY-vuh-ree, NAYV-ree)

noun: Dishonest dealing or an instance of this.

From knave, from Old English cnafa (boy, servant). Earliest documented use: 1528.

“Each nation is fighting a righteous war, brought about by the intolerable knavery of the other.”
Kenneth Roberts; Boon Island; Doubleday; 1956.

See more usage examples of knavery in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. -Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer (4 Jul 1804-1864)

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