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Liquorice is pronounced ˈlɪkərɪʃ. But every other word I can think of ending with -ice is pronounced differently (such as police or rice). How did liquorice get such a strange pronunciation, or alternatively, to be spelt like that?

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And if you think that's weird, take a look at "colonel" and "samhain" for 2 words with really unintuitive pronunciation. –  Andy Mar 1 '11 at 20:23
    
Sometimes, just to annoy people, I like to pronounce "colonel" like it's spelled. –  Wayne Werner Apr 30 '12 at 14:25
    
The only way I know to pronounce that is [ˈlɪkɹɨʃ], with only two syllables. The OED2 gives the old /ˈlɪkərɪs/, which I’ve myself never heard. –  tchrist May 6 '12 at 19:34
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John Wells discussed this on his blog. One of his readers wrote in giving a 1685 spelling "licorish", along with a speculation that this pronunciation originated in a regional dialect of English which changed many final s's to sh's. It's possible that this pronunciation was carried to America, spread there, and then was carried back to England, possibly long after this pronunciation had died out in England. –  Peter Shor May 7 '12 at 15:05
    
@Andy, at least ‘Samhain’ is simply pronounced (approximately) as in the donor language, in which its pronunciation, /ˈsaʊənʲ/, is entirely regular; and ‘colonel’ is regular enough as long as you know that the first l is a later introduction (based on Italian), and that it used to be spelt ‘coronel’. ‘Liquorice’, on the other hand, follows no rule or pattern present in neither donor language nor recipient language at all. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 10 '13 at 0:10
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5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It actually used to be pronounced /lɪkoɹˈɛs/, as evidenced by the Old French word we borrowed it from, "licoresse".

The last phoneme probably shifted from /s/ to /ʃ/ due to a similar process that happened with the words "pressure" and "sugar".

Why it changed and not other similar words? Who knows. English speakers for a long time have had a twisted lack of consistency. Why are the two words, from the same language and borrowed at roughly the same time period, "prestige" and "vestige" pronounced so differently?

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I've heard "vestige" as both /vɛstɪdʒ/ and /vɛstiʒ/, the last rhyming with "prestige". Admittedly, the former greatly dominates. –  wnoise Apr 11 '11 at 23:09
    
I have only ever heard prestige and vestige pronounced to rhyme with each other - locations: Scotland, central London, Australia and Falkland Islands. Never heard either with the "ɪdʒ" sound. –  Rory Alsop May 5 '11 at 7:42
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I don’t think you got /ʃ/ from what happened to pressure, sugar, and in some speakers, issue. The OED mentions regarding sugar that “The quantity of the vowel of the first syllable appears to have been variable from early times (compare the spellings suigur, sewger, seukere, and suggur), but the development of initial /sj/ into /ʃ/ makes it probable that the long ū /uː/ prevailed (compare sure), and that shortening took place afterwards; /ˈsjuːgə(r)/ survives in some north midl. districts.” but I see no /sj/ here for that to happen. –  tchrist May 6 '12 at 19:38
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My husband is Scottish (we live in England and I'm English)and he's just started to drink 'liquorice' tea. He asks me to make it and asks for 'lickeris' tea and when I say, you mean 'lickerish'? he insists that his way is the correct way to say it! I'd never heard it pronounced like that until now. I've always pronounced it 'lickerish'!

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As a supplement: The pronunciation with [ɪʃ] may also have been influenced by a very old variant of what is now lecherous: lickerish, which broadened its sense to "greedy, desirous" and at one time had the side meaning "tempting to the appetite".

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I have always pronounced liquorice with 's' not 'sh'. I had never heard it pronounced as 'sh' until I moved from Scotland to England, so as far as I'm concerned, the English pronounce it incorrectly and the Scots pronounce it correctly.

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Liquorice (American English: licorice) is a word that derives from the Old French licoresse (the equivalent of the modern French règlisse). The English word kept the pronunciation of the original word.

There is another word that has a similar pronunciation of -rice, and that has origin from a French word: caprice (AmE /kəˈpris/, BrE /kəˈpriːs/).

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Minor correction: American English form is "licorice". "Licorize" appears to be the name of a web-browser add-on. –  Hellion Mar 1 '11 at 20:38
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Er, caprice ends in [is], and liquorice ends in [ɪʃ]. I fail to see how the pronunciation of caprice illuminates the question about liquorice at all. –  JSBձոգչ Mar 1 '11 at 20:41
    
@JSBangs: I was only reporting that licorice is not the only word where -rice is pronounced differently from the usual, and the other word with a similar pronunciation is derived from a French word too. I didn't say it was the same pronunciation. –  kiamlaluno Mar 1 '11 at 20:53
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Isn't the -ice ending of caprice pronounced the same as that of police? –  psmears Mar 1 '11 at 21:16
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