Why not "messager"? Or "messenge"?

E.g. Why don't we say:

Send me a messenge on instant messager.

  • Because that's the way it's spelled.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 15, 2016 at 11:44

2 Answers 2


Generally the phenomenon is called the intrusive consonant.

Messenger shows us a case of "intrusive N" or "parasitic N." Nasal consonants are often used in this way, but not exclusively nasals.

From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=messenger

With parasitic -n- inserted by c. 1300 for no apparent reason except that people liked to say it that way (compare passenger, harbinger, scavenger).

Please see the similar etymology for passage --> passenger.


The -n- was added early 15c. (compare messenger, harbinger, scavenger, porringer).

More examples can be found at https://apgalton.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/intrusive-n/ below:

This insertion of -n- (or -ng-) seems to happen quite naturally in English. As far as I can see, it is particularly prone to happen in a weakly stressed second syllable of a three-syllable word....

Here are some examples where forms with the infixed -n- have become standard:

Nightingale, from Old English nihtegala – compare the German Nachtigall.

Celandine, ultimately from Greek khelidonion, a derivative of khelidon, a swallow.

Popinjay, an old word for a parrot, from Spanish papagayo.

Messenger, from Old French messager – compare message.

Passenger, from Old French passager – compare passage.

Harbinger, from Old French herbergere.

An interesting reference is Intrusive Nasals in English by Louise Pound Modern Language Notes Vol. 30, No. 2 (Feb., 1915), pp. 45-47 here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwie6K3j2cPOAhVTySYKHVMuAOsQFggqMAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.jstor.org%2Fstable%2F2916901&usg=AFQjCNGxZENNmAwlRBYxPT9LIE0u7Ztovg&sig2=kTD8e9Eunt8FBYVL2Ovg0Q&bvm=bv.129422649,d.dmo

  • I'd get rid of the Thompson bit here—that's a completely different (and much more natural) kettle of fish to this bizarre intrusive n that Eglish—I mean English—is so fond of. Aug 15, 2016 at 16:37
  • Roger, @Janus Bahs Jacquet, I made your suggested edit.
    – Wino Rhino
    Aug 15, 2016 at 16:56

Be aware that the development of the English language came about arbitrarily. There may be no rhyme or reason involved in the acceptance of a spelling, however in the case of "messenger" the "n" is present because when pronounced correctly there is an "n" sound at that location in the word.

  • 3
    This doesn't answer the question, all you're saying is that there's an n because there's an n. Aug 15, 2016 at 11:40
  • @sumelic To be fair, we can read the respondent's claim as saying that the spelling followed the pronunciation. This would be plausible, but it would still need support in a manner that StoneyB, for example, provides. Incidentally, StonyB's linked answer cites a popular source that makes the same claim of arbitrariness.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 15, 2016 at 11:50
  • 1
    @Lawrence: Right, what makes that a good answer is the source (and the examples of other words with analogous changes don't hurt either).
    – herisson
    Aug 15, 2016 at 11:54
  • I thought my question was pretty clear that I'm asking why the n arose, or was removed. This is a really terrible answer. I won't downvote though. Aug 15, 2016 at 18:57

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