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If it is license rather than licence, defense rather than defence, offense rather than offence, then why not finanse?

  • 1
    And conversely, why doesn't British English have rince? – Sven Yargs Nov 13 '14 at 8:12
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    Because language isn't predictable. – curiousdannii Nov 13 '14 at 12:13
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I think it depends on the etymology of each term. During centuries of separation from Britain, American English retained the original -se ending in certain words borrowed from French, while British English modified it to -ce.

finance (n.): was originally spelt with the suffix '-ce '.

  • c.1400, "an end, settlement, retribution," from Old French finance ".

while:

Defence:

  • c.1300, "forbidding, prohibition," also "action of guarding or protecting," from Old French defense.

Licence:

  • ," (12c.), from Latin licentia "freedom, liberty, license," "

Offence:

  • late 14c., "hurt, harm, injury, pain," from Old French ofense

Source: Etymolnine

  • Defense is spelled 'fence' so football fans can make signs consisting of a big D and a picket fence to wave. – Oldcat Nov 13 '14 at 22:28
  • You'd actually expect "licence" to be spelled with a "c" based on etymology alone. Latin "ti" before another vowel became "c", not "s" in French. – sumelic Jun 15 '15 at 21:03
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There is no reason to expect consistency in the use of the spelling -nse vs. the spelling -nce. The use of -nce vs -nse is partly, but not entirely based on etymology.

  • License comes from Latin licentia, and finance ends in the suffix -ance which comes from Latin -antia (and partly from -entia). Defense and offense come from Latin defensa and offensa/offensus.

Here are the etymologically regular developments:

  • Latin -tia underwent patalatalization and regularly developed to French -ce.

  • Latin -sa(m) regularly developed to French -se.

  • Latin -sus/-sum regularly developed to French -s.

According to Wikipedia, after the "Late Old French (c. 1250–1300)" time period, -nce and -nse would have been pronounced identically in French. This seems to have led to non-etymological use of "c" vs. "s" in this context in Middle French.

The OED says that defense probably comes from "Anglo-Norman defens, deffens, diffence, Anglo-Norman and Middle French defence, deffence, defense, deffense". It says that for some reason, the word could be masculine in Anglo-Norman; that presumably is the reason for the Anglo-Norman forms without a final -e. You can see that variation between -nse and -nce spellings existed in the French etymon of the English word.

Similarly, the OED says offense is partly from "Anglo-Norman and Middle French offense, offence" (and their Latin etymon offensa), and partly from "Anglo-Norman and Middle French offens" (and their Latin etymon offensus).

For license, the -se spelling seems to have arisen partly from analogy in English. Some noun-verb pairs show an alternation between -ce and -se, and this probably contributed to the use of the spelling license for the English verb. And the use of the -se spelling for the verb presumably contributed to or reinforced the use of the -se spelling for the noun.

Finance can also be a verb, but for some reason, -se has not become a recognized variant spelling of this word.

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