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15 Mistakes That Changed the English Language Forever

Some spelling and grammar mistakes change a student’s grade for the worse, others transform the language forever. These 15 common words showcase that some errors are beneficial, as without them, we wouldn’t have such fantastic English words as apron, orange, or sneeze. The saying “to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs” has never been more accurate!


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Apron
Like the word cuisine itself, many culinary terms were borrowed into English from French. The word apron is no exception, but somewhere along the way, mistakes were made, and the 14th-century French original – the word naperon – became apron.
This word actually showcases an interesting phenomenon in the English language called “rebracketing.”  When a noun begins with "n-," it’s tough to distinguish between “a napron” and “an apron.” As a result, people started spelling the word as apron not napron in all English texts.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Nickname

The word nickname is another example of rebracketing. In 13th-century English, there was the word eke which meant “to add,” “make longer,” or “also.” Someone’s informal name was known as an ekename, which can be literally translated as “also-name.” Over time, the incorrect parsing of “an ekename” evolved into “a neke-name,” and then into “a nickname.” This is how the modern word nickname was born.

There are many other examples of rebracketing in English. Some other common words are: umpire, aught, newt, and adder.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Squeeze
In Old English, the action of firmly pressing or crushing something was to quease – without the usual s- at the beginning. The initial “s” was added later on by mistake. Linguists speculate that this probably happened because squeeze looks similar to other verbs that start with "squ-," such as squat or squint.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Tornado
Borrowing words from other languages often creates confusion. When the Spanish word tronada, meaning “thunderstorm,” was first used by English speakers in the mid-16th century, they must have switched the order of the “r” and “o.”
In phonetics, the linguistic study of sounds, this process of transposition of letters or sounds in a word is called metathesis. Thanks to this misunderstanding, the contemporary word tornado was born.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Scandinavia

Did you know that Scandinavia was initially known as Scadinavia? Opinions regarding this toponym’s origins are divided. Some claim this early name stems from the Old English word for the south of Sweden – Scedenig. Others believe the name is a remnant of the Scadia island, which existed in the region prior to the Mesolithic (10,000-9,500 years ago) when the coastlines in the Baltic Sea changed significantly. 

As for the current name, the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the “n” was added when the famous Roman scholar Pliny the Elder accidentally misspelled the word. And the rest is, as they say, history.

Related article: 10 Popular Contemporary-Sounding Words Coined by Shakespeare


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Sherry
For the non-sommeliers out there, sherry is a type of fortified white wine from the Jerez region of Spain. The wine is called fortified because it has distilled spirits added to it. In the past, the Spanish port city from which the wine originated was called Xeres. Hence, the local wine became known as vino de Xeres - or “wine from Xeres.”
By the 1530s, the wine’s name morphed into sherris. Unfortunately, the "-s" at the end of the word confused English speakers, who thought it was a plural ending. Consequently, by the 17th century, the name was shortened to just sherry.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Syllabus
The word syllabus is of Greek origin, but it has nothing to do with the word syllable, despite the strong similarity in form. In fact, the term syllabus comes from the Greek word sittybos, meaning "parchment label, table of contents."
At one point in the 15th century, a scribe made a mistake in this word when copying Cicero's "Ad Atticum," writing syllabus instead. Little did he know, generations of academics would re-type his mistake and use it in every type of academic discipline imaginable. Ironic, isn’t it?


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Ingot
An ingot is defined as “a mass of metal cast into a convenient shape for storage or transportation to be later processed.” The term may also refer to the mold used to cast metal, and it comes from the French word lingot.
When the word was borrowed into the English language, some English authors assumed that the “l-” at the beginning refers to the French article le or la abbreviated to l’, so they removed it, leaving only the ingot. Since the word ended up on this list, you probably suspect that chopping off the initial "l-" was indeed a mistake. Still, the rewritten spelling has stuck more than the correct French version, and we still say ingot today.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Orange
There is a misspelling present in orange, but the spelling error in question occurred long before the word appeared in the English spelling. In order to track it down, let’s note the original word in Arabic orange came from – nāranj. At some point in history, the initial "n-" was dropped. This point likely occurred when the word appeared in the Romance language called Old Occitan. Scientists know this old Romance language had the word auranja, which was ultimately assimilated into modern French as orange.
But not all Romance languages dropped the "n-" in orange. For example, in Spanish, it is still spelled naranja.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Expediate
What is the correct form: expedite or expediate? Trick question. Both are actually correct, but there’s a slight difference in meaning. To expedite means “to be ready for action,” whereas to expediate is a synonym of “hasten” or “complete promptly.” The two words are so similar in form and in meaning because the latter emerged when the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys made a mistake in an essay. The spelling error was ultimately fixed, but the new spelling stuck nonetheless.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Pea
Plural forms of nouns have given a headache to a great many puzzled students of English. They are notoriously difficult to remember; so much so that some mistakes have changed the language itself. One example that comes to mind is the word pea. In Middle English, a single pea was referred to as pease. But this was extremely confusing, as the "-se" at the end of the word made it sound like a plural noun. As a result, a new technically-incorrect singular form – pea – emerged in the 17th century.
And for those of you wondering, the initial plural form of pease used to be pesen.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Despatch
Like expediate, despatch is an alternative spelling of the word dispatch. Despatch is more widely used in British English; most often in formal situations. The most captivating part of this version of spelling is that it proves that even dictionaries have typos. The story goes that the word despatch was included in Samuel Johnson’s iconic 1755 "Dictionary of the English Language," despite Johnson preferring to use dispatch in his own writing.
The dictionary became one of the most famous books in history, thus inadvertently legitimizing and popularizing the spelling with an "e". This trend continued until the 19th century. Currently, the more widespread spelling is dispatch.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Sneeze
Curiously, the word sneeze was initially spelled with an "f-" and not an "s-" at the beginning – fneze. This Medieval version of sneeze is an example of onomatopoeia – when a word is created from a similar sound, as in gargle, drip, or sizzle.
For some reason, the spelling changed from freeze to sneeze in the 15th century. Most researchers believe it’s because the lowercase "f" appeared similar to the long now outdated character of "s" – "ſ."


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Algorithm
Supposedly, the word algorithm was named after a famous Arab mathematician. But if it doesn't seem like a name to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Medieval Latin scholars have misspelled the mathematician's last name beyond recognition, as it was supposed to be al-Khwarizmi, and not algorithm at all.


Mistakes That Became Proper Words Culprit
Did we leave the most spectacular spelling error for last? Maybe… The verdict is up to you. And it just so happens that the last word comes straight out of court documents. For a long time after the Norman Conquest, French remained the language of the law in England. The Medieval phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille — which literally means “guilty, ready to prove our case”— was the official reply to a not guilty plea by the Clerk of the Crown.
And if you think that's an unusually long phrase for a court standard, you’re exactly right. This is why the phrase was often abbreviated in court records. That abbreviation was a brief and familiar “cul. prit.” And that’s how the word culprit was created.
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