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Why is it spelled...?

Why is [ch] spelled <ch> at the end of such but <tch> at the end of stitch?

The spelling of [ch] in English has had a fairly complex development. In Old English it was spelled <c>, <cc>, or <ce>, as in pic "pitch," feccan "fetch,"and ceosan "choose." The Norman scribes introduced the French <ch> to spell [ch] in French adoptions and native English words. At first they used <cch> as a double <ch> after short vowels. But by the 15th century the <cch> had been replaced with <tch>. If you listen carefully, you can hear a slight [t] sound at the beginning of [ch], and [ch] is sometimes represented as [tsh]. That [t] sound may explain the choice of <tch> to replace <cch>. The regular contrast at work between <ch> and <tch> is this: <tch> is used, especially in word-final position, after short vowels spelled with a unigraph, while <ch> is used after vowel digraphs and consonants. Thus we have watch, wretch, witch, notch, and hutch, ratchet, kitchen, butcher contrasted with beach, belch, coach, perch, search, drench, gulch.

Such and which, only apparent holdouts to this pattern, derive from words which once had the consonant [l] preceding the [ch]: Old English swelc and hwilc, thus the use of <ch> rather than <tch>. Much, a genuine holdout, comes from Old English micel, a contraction of earlier muchel, and had the earlier more regular spelling mutch. Other definite holdouts to the pattern are attach and detach, which come from French. Another, rich, comes from Old English rice. Some of its earlier spellings were within the pattern: ricche, rycch, rytch, ritch. One suggestion is that the nonregular spelling <rich> arose due to the influence of the French riche. Other holdouts, on the other side of the pattern, are aitch "the letter <h>," which was earlier ache, and hootch and scrootch, which have the more regular variants hooch and scrooch (AES, 30.3 -- 30.3.2.7).

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