Printable Version
Pronunciation: kêr-nêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: The rank in the US military (except the Navy and Coast Guard) between lieutenant colonel and brigadier general.

Notes: Attention!The problem, of course, in keeping track of today's Good Word, is remembering how to spell it. Since it is pronounced exactly like kernel (for reasons laid out in Word History), we would not expect to spell it colonel. However, we are talking about English, where the disjuncture between pronunciation and spelling can exceed the bizarre (read The Chaos if you haven't already).

In Play: We do not have much latitude with today's Good Word; it is nothing more than a military rank: "Don't disturb the colonel right now, lieutenant, he's in conference with General Jack Daniels." It can be used as a noun or as a title, as in this sentence: "Rumor has it that Colonel Achruth got his Purple Heart driving through DC traffic at rush hour."

Word History: Today's word originated in Italian as colonello, the leader of a regiment but perhaps originally the leader of a column, colonna in Italian. When the French borrowed this word, it didn't like so many Ls in the word and so by a process called 'dissimilation', replaced the middle L with an R: coronnel. This occurred around the middle of the 16th century, about the time English borrowed it. Notice the pronunciation is very similar to that of kernel at this point, since the middle unaccented O would be overlooked even in normal speech ('LVS'). By the end of the 16th century, scholars realized that the French were spelling this word incorrectly, and changed the spelling back to colonel. Speakers, however, most of whom could not read, did not get the message and continued to pronounce this word cor'nel. (We would like to thank Chuck Lee for suggesting today's little lexical kernel for examination.)

Dr. Goodword,

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