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The prefix arch-, archi- “chief, principal; extreme, ultra; early, primitive,” derives from Latinized Greek arkh-, arkhi-, the combining form of arkhos “chief.” Usually, arch- is pronounced like “arch” (ɑrtʃ), and archi- sounds like “ark” (ɑrkɪ), although archangel (ɑrkeɪndʒəl) is a notable exception.

Is there an etymological or other reason for pronouncing the two prefixes differently? Did they perhaps enter English at different times? Likewise, is there any pattern to which nouns use arch- (e.g., archenemy, archfiend) versus archi- (archiepiscopal, architect)? Why is archangel an exception to the pronunciation rule?

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    OED has "/ɑːtʃ/ exc. in archangel" which it makes a complete mess of explaining. – Andrew Leach Oct 29 '13 at 7:35
  • Yes, I'd heard that the OED listed archangel as a sole exception to the /ɑːtʃ/ pronunciation, but unfortunately I don't have access. I was hoping that somebody who did could offer some insight, but that doesn't sound promising. – Bradd Szonye Oct 29 '13 at 22:00
  • I suspected that the difference in usage and pronunciation might be rooted in how “English” the words are, as fiend is Germanic, episcopal is Latinate, and angel is a blend of the two. I also suspected that it might be a vowel-versus-consonant thing. Unfortunately, archenemy contradicts both of those hypotheses. – Bradd Szonye Oct 30 '13 at 1:43
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    Perhaps interesting: Dutch uses aarts- (pronounced as it is spelled) for most of those words, so aartsbisschop, aartsengel, aartsrivaal. Only aarts- is productive. But some words use the Latin/Greek spelling, like architect, archetype, archipel, and architraaf. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 30 '13 at 1:51
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    The OED on archi-: "This form of the prefix is retained in words taken in modern times from Gr. or L., directly or through mod.Fr., and in compounds formed on the model of these. Hence it is sometimes found in the adjectives, etc. belonging to substantives, which, from their earlier introduction, have themselves the form arch-, as archdeacon, archidiaconal, archbishop, archiepiscopal. Some words have both forms, as archi-presbyter, arch-presbyter. ..." – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 30 '13 at 1:52
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+100

An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (1888) by Walter W. Skeat answers all your questions at once.

ARCH-, chief; almost solely used as a prefix. (L.--Gk.) Shak. has 'my worthy arch and patron,' Lear, ii. I.61; but the word is harshly used, and better kept as a mere prefix. In arch-bishop, we have a word in very early use; A.S. erce-bisceop, arce-bisceop (Bosworth). Thus arch- is to be rightly regarded as descended from A.S. arce-, which was borrowed from Lat. archi- (in archi-episcopus), and this again from Gk. άρχι in άρχιεπίσκοπος, an archbishop. Gk. άρχός to be first; cf. Gk. άρχή, beginning. Cf. Skt. arh, to be worthy; Curtius, i.233. The form of the prefix being once fixed, it was used for other words. Der. arch-bishop, arch-deacon, arch-duke, arch-duchy, &c. In the word arch-angel, the prefix is taken directly from the Greek; see Archi-.
ARCHI-, chief; used as a prefix. (L.--Gk.) The older form is arch-, which (as explained under Arch-) was a modification of A.S. arce-, from Lat. archi-. The form archi- is of later use, but borrowed from the Lat. directly. Gk. άρχί-, prefix. See Arch-. Der. archi-episcopal, archi-episcopy, archi-diaconal. In the word arch-angel, the final i of the prefix is dropped before the vowel following. In the word arche-type, the prefix takes the form arche-.

Another edition of this dictionary (revised in 1910; reprinted in 2005) adds a couple of comments to the explanation.

ARCH- <...> In the word arch-angel, the ch remained hard (as k) in the Romance languages, on account of the a following; cf. Ital. archangelo, Span. arcangel.
ARCHI- <...> The same prefix also forms part of the words archi-mandrite, archi-pelago, archi-tect, archi-trave.

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    Thanks! This does a good job of explaining why arch- has an English pronunciation while archi- is Latinate. The explanation for archangel is a little fuzzy, and I don't entirely believe either entry, but I think it's reasonable to conclude that archangel was (for either etymological or aesthetic reasons) borrowed more directly from French/Latin than later words like archenemy and so the more general pronunciation rule doesn't apply to it. – Bradd Szonye Nov 3 '13 at 23:22

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