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My favorite silent English letter is:

by chacham (Prior)
on Feb 29, 2012 at 12:08 UTC ( #956913=poll: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Vote on this poll

a as in aisle
[bar] 55/5%
b as in subpoena
[bar] 24/2%
c as in muscle
[bar] 29/3%
d as in badge
[bar] 11/1%
e as in pie
[bar] 47/4%
f as in halfpenny
[bar] 31/3%
g as in foreign
[bar] 48/4%
h as in hour
[bar] 33/3%
i as in business
[bar] 13/1%
j as in hajj
[bar] 20/2%
k as in know
[bar] 64/6%
l as in would
[bar] 15/1%
m as in mneumonic
[bar] 84/8%
n as in autumn
[bar] 30/3%
o as in opossum
[bar] 30/3%
p as in pneumonia
[bar] 101/9%
q as in lacquer
[bar] 18/2%
r as in surprise
[bar] 27/2%
s as in island
[bar] 89/8%
t as in depot
[bar] 24/2%
u as in build
[bar] 13/1%
v as in revving
[bar] 20/2%
w as in wrong
[bar] 28/3%
x as in faux
[bar] 89/8%
y as in they're
[bar] 9/1%
z as in rendezvous
[bar] 143/13%
1095 total votes
Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by roboticus (Chancellor) on Feb 29, 2012 at 18:00 UTC

    An old BritCom (The Young Ones, IIRC) had a line something like "His name is Rick, with a silent P".


    When your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like your thumb.

      One of my father's: "the P is silent, as in bath".


      John Davies

        Or, as Benny Hill once put it, "as in swimming pool!" ;-)



        Pool-side sign: "Welcome to our ool! [Notice there's no "P" in it...]"
      Ha, The Young Ones, what a larf! And surreal.

      Wot's a wok?
      It's like a frying pan.
      No, it's wot you twow at wabbits.

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by tobyink (Canon) on Feb 29, 2012 at 13:27 UTC

    Does v in "revving" really count? In my books it's the same as the double l in "falling" - the two letters in the double are not pronounced separately from each other, but they act to disambiguate the pronunciation of the preceding vowel.

    I'd expect "reving" to rhyme with "leaving".

    Bringing things back to Perl, the parentheses are "silent" (useless) here:

    my $foo = (__PACKAGE__);

    But act as a disambiguator here:

    $foo{(__PACKAGE__)} = 1;
      The idea was to give all (English) letters an option. The double letter options were given when i didn't find anything better.

      BTW, that's not an excuse. Just an explanation. :)

        fivepence works in some dialects
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by tye (Sage) on Feb 29, 2012 at 14:08 UTC

    Nice! I'd have left off the 'v' entry.

    I'm more impressed by the invisible English letters like the 'f' in "rough".

    - tye        

      There's an invisible 'f' in "laughter" but the invisible 'f' is silent in "daughter".

      - tye        

        For me there is also an invisible "f" in "lieutenant" as the standard British pronunciation is like "leftenant"
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by PhilHibbs (Hermit) on Mar 01, 2012 at 14:02 UTC
    f, n, o, r, and d as in fnord.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by Not_a_Number (Prior) on Feb 29, 2012 at 13:06 UTC


    Do you perchance mean mnemonic?

      mneumonic is a fine example for a silent m, and an even better example for a silent u: the u is so silent that it is typically not even written ;-)

      Yep, oops... if only pneu, i mean new doh! i mean gnu (will continue when i finish with the recursion)

      FWIW, i fixed it in the original Re: poll ideas quest 2011. :P

      adj.   Having the character of water in the lungs due to mono.

      - tye        

        I'm pretty sure that's still pneumonic
      He actually mean mnemonic, for sure.

      These words like 'pneumonia' and 'mnemonic' came from greek. And not only in english they came - that's the key point. When these greek words with diphthong 'eu' have adopted in russian language it receives a strong 'v' sound in place of greek 'u'. So, the 'pneumonia' sounds like 'pnevmonia' in russian, but 'mnemonic' is still 'mnemonika'.

      I've done some research on google and yes, it's μνημονικά and πνευμονία.
      mneumonic is a common error (instead of the proper "mnemonic") among even supposedly literate adults.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by raybies (Chaplain) on Feb 29, 2012 at 16:41 UTC
    Hrm... not sure the R was silent for me... SO, Am I the only person who actually says "sir-prize" for Surprise, as opposed to "Sup-prize"? (Great Poll, btw...)

      I was also su-prised by the idea that surprise's first r is silent. I've always pronounced both r's for as long as I can remember (which nowadays is about 10 minutes).

      I wonder if it's a regional thing? My mother was from the (US) midwest. Most of the folks out there talk about the nation's capital as "Warshington DC". In which case, there's the on-again, off-again r for you...again.

        forecastle foyer
      It's the second r that's silent ;-)
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by cjb (Friar) on Feb 29, 2012 at 13:09 UTC

    I'm not sure about "f as in halfpenny".

    That's a silent "lf" in English-English pronunciation.

      halfpenny did not work for me as well. Shall we go with giraffe ?

      Wait! This isn't a Parachute, this is a Backpack!

        Actually "halfpenny" works for me because the "l" is missing in the pronunciation of "half" anyway, so in English-English "halfpenny" only loses the "f" as there there was no "l" to lose. I would say something like "haaf" for "half" normally but "halfpenny" is like "haypenny".

        "giraffe" has an "f" at the end when I say it. Can you say it without one? Wouldn't that just be "gira"?

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by syphilis (Archbishop) on Mar 01, 2012 at 02:29 UTC
    i as in fish

    (In appreciation of the New Zealand dialect.)

      I thought that vowels aren't missing in New Zealand English: they're just all "u"
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by RedElk (Hermit) on Mar 01, 2012 at 04:42 UTC

    g as in phlegm. yugm.

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by PhilHibbs (Hermit) on Mar 01, 2012 at 11:11 UTC
    How is Hajj an English word? Marijuana would be better. Sure, it's a loan words from another language, but we added the 'j' for the English version of the word so it definitely counts!
      How is hajj an English word? Same way that rendezvous and skiff and alcohol are.
        I think most people would make a distinction between words that have been adopted into mainstream English usage, and foreign language words that we use because there isn't an English word. Hajj isn't a generic word that can be used for any other purpose. It has a specific meaning, and it is inappropriate - even offensive - to use it in any other context. I would never "go on a hajj to Bletchley Park", for instance, but I would "go on a pilgrimage" to it. So while technically it is "a word that is used in the English language", it's very much a borderline case. Although it's legal in Scrabble, so maybe I'm wrong.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by jaredor (Priest) on Mar 02, 2012 at 00:39 UTC
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by mertserger (Curate) on Mar 02, 2012 at 09:11 UTC

    I've changed my mind. I'd like to vote for the silent r in oh-so-many words in the standard English-English pronunciation. I can't call it British English because Scottish people often pronounce the r where the English don't. My dear departed Scottish father even said the r in "iron".

    So my vote should have gone to the silent r that is a major feature of English-English pronunciation, the technical adjective being "non-rhotic".


    PS I am fairly sure all the words in the poll would appear in any reasonable English dictionary so although they may have been borrowed from other languages they're English now. Someone once said: "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

      I don't think the r's are silent, they just take 'em away and use 'em somewhere else. Like after a's. I always crack up when listening to BBC Mid-East reports mentioning the "Garzer Strip"

        The bęte noire in this household over the years has always been the invisible, but sometimes rolled, R that results in "law and order" sounding like "laurrrrra ndoda". And since "ndoda" means "man" in several of the Nguni languages, it could be a valid name.


        John Davies

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by toolic (Bishop) on Feb 29, 2012 at 14:15 UTC
    g as in GNU... oh... no, wait, that's a G that should be silent :)
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by mertserger (Curate) on Mar 01, 2012 at 15:35 UTC
    Maybe other British English speakers will disagree with me, but I would never drop the "o" at the beginnging of "opossum" but then it isn't a word I use very much either.
      The "o" completely disappears in the phrase "play possum" :-)
        But there is no silent O in "possum" though it is possible there might be a missing one, if you consider possum=opossum. It is quite common for words to lose letters over time, like how the Latin "fenestra" became the French "fenętre". Can you tell I do tech support for a dictionary?
      checking WP reveals that opossums and possums belong to different families.

      So probably it's a false example.

      Cheers Rolf

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by ambrus (Abbot) on Mar 02, 2012 at 10:20 UTC

    P in psychology, and c in scent.

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by erix (Prior) on Feb 29, 2012 at 13:34 UTC
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by mertserger (Curate) on Mar 02, 2012 at 13:26 UTC

    If I was allowed to vote for my least favourite silent letter, it would be the "b" in "debt". The original spelling in English was "dete" or "dett" but at some point an idiot decided that because it derives from the Latin "debere" (to owe) it should be given a silent "b" to show its origins.

    As if English spelling and pronuciation are inconsistent enough without that!

      I meant to type "As if English spelling and pronuciation are not inconsistent enough without that! - oops
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by silent11 (Vicar) on Mar 03, 2012 at 04:53 UTC
      There's a difference between "silent" and "pronounced differently" in the language it was borrowed/stolen from. "ll" => "y" and "j" => "h" (someone said something about a "silent" 'h' in some other spanish word elsewhere in this thread).
        Hermano runrig,
        fo11ow not the tro11s, down ca11ous and su11en va11ies
        my ste11ar she11 of a po11 response, was to sta11 a11 Name Space quandaries
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by jmcnamara (Monsignor) on Mar 06, 2012 at 10:00 UTC

    My favourite silent(ish) letter is the h in John. At the very least it seems it should be spelled Jhon.

    P.S. see also Ghoti.

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by swampyankee (Parson) on Feb 29, 2012 at 23:47 UTC

    Incidentally, it's mnemonic, not mneumonic.

    Information about American English usage here and here. Floating point issues? Please read this before posting. — emc

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by jffry (Hermit) on Mar 05, 2012 at 17:23 UTC

    My favorite silent letter to intentionally pronounce is the "p" in Pflugerville. With maximum plosiveness at that.

      Hehe, I do that too. Howdy fellow Central Texan!
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by aartist (Pilgrim) on Mar 08, 2012 at 15:53 UTC
    'I' as in business, for philosophical and psychological reasons.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by ikegami (Patriarch) on Mar 02, 2012 at 05:18 UTC

    The "z" is technically not silent in "rendezvous". "ez" as a whole forms the "é" sound, and neither letter on its own would sound that way. It's like English's "sh", but it's a vowel instead of a consonant. French has many such combinations.

    The "o" in "opossum" is not silent. "Possum" refers to a completely different animal.

    Which "r" of "surprise" do think is silent?!

      The "o" in "opossum" is not silent. "Possum" refers to a completely different animal.

      According to Merriam-Webster, the "o" in opossum is optionally silent.

      I'm not sure what to make of the pronunciation of opossum at, as I can't find a pronunciation guide there (maybe the "*" after the "O" means it's optional? - update: Nope, other examples show clearly it's just a delimiter between syllables).

      I find it interesting that only the opossum "plays possum." I think perhaps the "o" is an invisible silent letter in that phrase :-)

      "Which "r" of "surprise" do think is silent?!"


      I think to many Americans the first syllable of "serpent" has a noticiable "r" at the end whereas "surprise" doesn't, so that is what they mean by the missing r. To me they both have more-or-less the same first syllable, so I suspect I would sound like I am not saying the "r" in "serpent" to them as well.

      As I said in another post on this thread the technical term is "rhotic" for the pronunciation which says the "r" in "serpent", "non-rhotic" where you don't. Wikipedia has an interesting article on it Are you a non-rhotic speaker too?

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by Happy-the-monk (Canon) on Mar 08, 2012 at 19:49 UTC

    though they aren't letters, I love the silent and non-silent spaces in combinations of

    "China and Japan"

    and the like. That sounds like "Chinarand Japan". The first blank is an audible -r-, but the other isn't.

    Cheers, Sören

      They actually have a name, "intrusive r". Something pretty hard to get right for non-native speakers BTW.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by nimdokk (Vicar) on Mar 08, 2012 at 14:07 UTC
    "f" and "g" as in as in phlegm. It's also my favorite word with three consonants in a row :-) (and yes, the /f/ is actually pronounced in the word)
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by snoopy (Curate) on Mar 13, 2012 at 00:45 UTC
    all - as in a vow of silence.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by Discipulus (Canon) on Mar 05, 2012 at 09:55 UTC

    in italian we are lucky.. we only have H as in hotel the rest is a cla +sh!
    there are no rules, there are no thumbs..
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by fisher (Priest) on Mar 01, 2012 at 20:24 UTC
    Well, some of these words technically is not english; arabic hajj, greek pneumonia, and a bunch of french like rendezvous, faux, depot.

      You can blame Bill The Bastard (sorry, I meant William the Conqueror) for that. He brought a whole bunch of French words into English. The aristocracy spoke French, the normal commoners spoke Anglo-Saxon. That's why you get two names for most types of meat; mutton and lamb (which comes from l'angneau), ox and beef (from bœuf), etc.

      Look closely and you'll find that English (even the version with Merriam and Webster's messed up spelling (color vs colour)) is an amalgamation of Latin, Greek, Arabic, French, German, Anglo, Saxon, Swedish, Norwegian and Chinese plus a whole bunch of other words borrowed from around the old British Empire.

        lamb (which comes from l'angneau),

        the choice of the word lamb curiously breaks that schema (which stays valid nearly everywhere else). It is believed to be a much older word from germanic/protogermanic roots, qf the German "Lamm", Dutch & Scandinavian languages "lam", Nedersaksisch "Laom" etc.

        Just the other way round mutton is from French mouton, so you have been unhappily mixing the pair the wrong way up.

        Cheers, Sören

        Later addition: "Billy the Bastard" would indeed have been an appropriate and probably undisputed name for the young William, I learned.

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by johngg (Canon) on Mar 08, 2012 at 13:03 UTC

    b as in amber??



Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by spadacciniweb (Curate) on Mar 12, 2012 at 16:35 UTC

    t as in Atlantic

    (($_="Mzz ojjdloobnf jt uvy5502383")=~y~b-zg2-5c96-81~a-z0-9~s)=~s~~~s; print
          um, ...errr... -- for this speaker of "standard american" (which is not standard for all Americans) -- would you tell us which "t" in Atlantic is silent. Or is it the 't' in Atlantic's surname, "Ocean?"

      BTW, you have your text in your sig div.

        My american collegue (born in Philadelphia) says Alantic City.
        He says that is correct. However today I have asked him this question, and he has responded:

        In the New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia area the 't' tends to be pronounced as a 'd' when it is the first letter and silent when it is in the word. This is like the Italian accents from the different regions.

        (($_="Mzz ojjdloobnf jt uvy5502383")=~y~b-zg2-5c96-81~a-z0-9~s)=~s~~~s; print
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by tubaandy (Deacon) on Mar 20, 2012 at 18:52 UTC
    How about the second i in Aluminum?

      Webster's Dictionary has it as Aluminum since the 1828 edition. Sorry, I didn't get taught from a text earlier than that. Oh, and, um... "I like pie!"
      Well, that's my $.02 worth. No, for refunds you'll have to check our customer service department.
Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by TomDLux (Vicar) on Mar 19, 2012 at 16:57 UTC

    I suppose you yanks say 'bizness' rather that 'biziness' and say 'suhprise' instead of 'sirprise', but don't blame your aberrant behaviour on the language.

    As Occam said: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

Re: My favorite silent English letter is:
by JavaFan (Canon) on Mar 24, 2012 at 22:25 UTC

    Never went beyond the Zebra?

      My favorite oddity of the English(American) language is this alternate spelling of fish:ghoti: gh = f as in tough o = short i as in women ti = ti as in nation :)

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