General Question

Spargett's avatar

Why does "island" have a silent "s'?

Asked by Spargett (5377points) July 29th, 2008

What’s the point? How does “eyeland” and “Island” make the same sound?

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10 Answers

cheebdragon's avatar

“The word island comes from Old English ī(e)gland (literally, “watery land”). However, the spelling of the word was modified in the 15th century by association with the etymologically unrelated Old French loanword isle.[1]”

See here

Spargett's avatar


Ok, but “isle” still has the same useless “s” that “island” does.

cheebdragon's avatar

“The S was added by confusion with French isle, which is not related but is instead from Latin insula.”

Harp's avatar

As cheeb says, the English adopted the French spelling “isl…”, but even at the time this adoption occured, the French already did not pronounce the “s”. So the English adopted both the French spelling and the French pronunciation (sort of).

The French would have pronounced the “s” in this and many other words up until about the time of the Norman invasion (1066 A.D.), but the “s” gradually ceased to be pronounced thereafter, although it continued to appear in written form. By the 18th century, all these non-phonetic spellings moved the Academie Francaise to strike the “s” from the official spelling of these words and mark the change by placeing a cirumflex accent over the vowel preceding the stricken “s”.

So now the French spelling is ”île”, but the phantom “s” lives on in our “island”.

augustlan's avatar

I love word geeks…you guys are awesome! Yes, I’m a 40 year old word geek, and I still say “awesome”. sigh

gailcalled's avatar

@Augustian: Speaking of “awesome,” take a gander at the 58 answers to this.

augustlan's avatar

@gail Thanks, that was “the bee’s knees” and “the cat’s pajamas”!

gailcalled's avatar

By George, you’ve got it :-)

cookieman's avatar

And here I thought some early humans in a boat were floating about aimlessly. Finally they saw something on the horizon. One of them yelled, “Is land! Is land!” in rapid succession (given his excitement). ;-)

petrock's avatar

So, three centuries after the French fixed their word, the English speakers of the world have still not seen fit to correct their original mistake and eliminate the nonsensical letter!

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