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Why is it spelled...?
Why is colonel spelled with an <l> but pronounced with an [r]?
Originally colonel was spelled coronel, which came from French coronnel, which itself came from
Italian colonello. In early English, coronel established the pronunciation. The change from the
Italian <l> to French <r> was an example of dissimilation, the process by which one of two
adjacent identical or very similar sounds is changed to make it less similar in order to avoid an
awkward repetition and thus ease pronunciation. Dissimilation quite often involves the liquids [l]
and [r], as in belfry (ME berfrey), laurel (Fr. laurier), marble (ME marbre), marmalade (Lat.
melimelum), palfrey (Lat. palafredus < Lat. parafredos), pilgrim (Lat. peregrinum).
The later respelling in English of coronel to colonel is a case of a change in spelling with no
change in pronunciation. The respelling was due to the desire to make the word's spelling reflect
its classical source, the Latin columna. A colonel was taken to be a leader of a column of troops.