I'd assumed that pulchritude was derived from Greek, because of the "ch" but it turns out to be from Latin pulcher. I've been taught that "c" always has a hard pronunciation in Latin, so why would there be an "h" there?

(Although pulchritude is an English word, this might be more relevant to a Latin StackExchange, which unfortunately doesn't exist yet.)


1 Answer 1


In latin, ch was used to transcribe the Greek Χ (Chi) when it had a /kʰ/ sound (some regional forms of the alphabet used that letter where Ξ was used elsehwere, which is why our X looks like Χ).

This has left its mark on some English word, notably Christ and words derived from it (Christian, Christmas).

English pulchritude from Latin pulchritudo from Latin pulcher (beautiful) +‎ -tūdō (makes an abstract noun from an adjective like English -ity) is straightforward.

Where pulcher came from is unknown, and hence is why it had a ch. Maybe it was from a now lost Greek word. Maybe it had a /k/ sound or some other sound that got mutated and the spelling changed to match the /kʰ/ sound. Maybe it was borrowed from someone else entirely. Maybe some Roman bloke came up with some theory about why pulcher was more logical ;)

In any case, it did have the /kʰ/ sound, just as the English now has a /k/ sound of those ch words we got from Greek via Latin (again, Christ being another example).

  • Thanks for the info! Are you saying that 'ch' would have a different pronunciation from a plain 'c' in Latin? And most instances of this pronunciation came from Greek, but not necessarily all of them? Feb 16, 2013 at 4:03
  • @Kundor If there are known examples of Latin words using it that are known not to come from Greek, that's beyond my knowledge (I only really know about how this had a later influence on English, I've no Latin). But once something is in a language, it gets used, and also mis-used, so with the origin of pulcher being unknown, we can only make guesses as to how a spelling ended up as it did. A Greek origin would certainly make sense, because it matches other cases from Greek, but maybe someone just decided it matched the sound best, or mistakenly thought it was Greek.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 16, 2013 at 11:38
  • (A comparison: In English, words beginning with X are almost always from borrowings of Greek words that begin with Ξ, though pronounced with a Z rather than a KS. But some brand names are just arbitrary coinages that begin with a Z sound and a X spelling; copying the form, but not the reason, of what is done in English with Greek borrowings. So even though there's a single reason English started having X at the beginning of words with a Z sound, it doesn't follow for all examples, and we can't know for sure a given X word is from Greek).
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 16, 2013 at 11:41

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