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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, 2011 at 20:23
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    Sometimes, just to annoy people, I like to pronounce "colonel" like it's spelled. Apr 30, 2012 at 14:25
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    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, 2012 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. May 7, 2012 at 15:05
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    @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. Oct 10, 2013 at 0:10

7 Answers 7

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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, 2011 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, 2011 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, 2012 at 19:38
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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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I had this argument in school with my English teacher; I pronounced it with the iss, not the ish. She showed me a dictionary where it was pronounced ish, but instead of taking her word I decided to do some research in older dictionaries... we were both right. The original way was the way I had said it with the iss sound, but due to an overwhelming amount of people pronouncing it ish it was changed. Shortly after it had been changed, there were two ways printed and an explanation, but now it seems this has been lost over the years and simply changed to ish. I refuse to roll with the masses and still pronounce it iss not ish.

Ah well, it is my choice; and in my mind, I am equally correct saying it this way.

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I am Scottish but moved with my family to England as a child. Having been brought up most of my childhood in England I always used the 'liquorish' pronunciation but was told off by my Scottish mother who always wrote it 'licorice' - using the 'riss' pronunciation

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  • Hello, RVer. This would need more authentication to make it into an acceptable answer on ELU. When you have enough rep points, you can tag on snippets like this as comments. Aug 9, 2015 at 15:16
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It's possible that the pronunciation of the common noun liquorice was influenced by the plant's Latinized genus name Liquiritia, anglicized as /lɪkwɪɹɪʃə/ (and these days less often used than the official Greek name Glycyrrhiza). Other plants where English speakers tend to use the genus name more than the English name include eucalyptus (gum tree) and ficus (weeping fig).

So if people sometimes heard the term Liquiritia in reference to liquorice, the pronunciations might have converged over time. This convergence may have been helped along by the fact that the English word can be traced back to the Latin one through French.

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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, 2011 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. Mar 1, 2011 at 20:41
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    @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.
    – apaderno
    Mar 1, 2011 at 20:53
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    Isn't the -ice ending of caprice pronounced the same as that of police?
    – psmears
    Mar 1, 2011 at 21:16

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