Sunday, 6 April 2014

Is schedule pronounced "skedule" or "shedule"?

This may be my favourite etymological mix-up.The answer is, neither.

Because it begins with "sch" it was thought by some to be of Greek origin, like "school" and was therefore pronounced by some the same way, with a "sk" sound. There were others who read it as a German word, and as you may know, in German "sch" is pronounced "sh." That is where the "shedule" pronunciation comes from.
I have always insisted that the "skedule" pronunciation is preferable, and I do still think it sounds better, but in fact, neither assumption about the origins of the word, and therefore about its pronunciation, is correct. The word is actually an English word, not a Greek or German borrowing. It was originally spelled "cedule" and was pronounced just like it is spelled, "sedule." That is terrible, isn't it. But it's true.

I learned this anecdote in a university course that I took on the history of English, but we were not taught how this came to be. I have come up with my own theory.

As I have mentioned several times, spelling did not used to be as consistent as we have come to regard it. I suspect that the first spelling was "cedule" and possibly sometimes "sedule" and most likely was also written "scedule." S and C together are sometimes used when one or the other would suffice. My authority for this is the word "reminisce." The mistake about the pronunciation and origin of the word might have originated from this last spelling of the word, and the "h" might have been added latter in both cases to make it consistent with the emerging orthographic conventions of German and Greek borrowings.

I have no idea if that is true or not, but it accords with what I know about the history of the English language.

According to the free dictionary, schedule is actually a Greek word in origin, and so my preferred pronunciation is vindicated. According to, the word is Latin in origin, totally unrelated to Greek or German, but the "sch" spelling replaces the Middle English spelling of "cedule." I leave you to make up your own minds about the true etymology. If anyone would like to quote the OED, please do so.

While I have your attention, I would like to clarify one thing about another word which contains "sch" and that is "bruschetta." Please not that this lovely appetiser is NOT GERMAN! It is an Italian word, for an Italian item. In Italian, you place an H after a C when it precedes a front vowel but you don't want it to become soft, i.e. you want to keep it as a "k" sound. This is also true with the letter "g" which is why we don't pronounce "spaghetti" as "spajetti." Think also of chianti wine, starting with a "k" sound. Please, please, please say "brusketta" - if only for my sake.

And you can say "schedule" any way you like. You'll still be wrong, but what are we to do, mark things in our cedule?

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

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1 comment:

  1. "S and C together are sometimes used when one or the other would suffice"

    Such as in Anglicized loanwords like "science" (from Latin "scientia", where the "c" is pronounced like a "k")?

    The "sch" of "schedule" actually comes from an attempt to transliterate Greek sigma and chi written together, and the pronunciation of that sounds nothing like English "sh" or "sk".