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A work colleague and I were bickering over why proper only has one p. We need help.

There are lots of words that end in the sounds /ɒpər/, but they are all spelled with -opper, with two p’s:

Chopper
Shopper
Stopper
Copper
Popper
Hopper

There is only one word that ends in /ɒpər/ that doesn’t have two p’s there: proper.

Why is this? Why is proper different from the rest?

  • 2
    Because French and German are different languages. A propper is somebody who props. – tchrist Feb 16 '17 at 12:38
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    Because that's the propper way to spell it? (Do note that, with the exception of "copper", all your examples are of a short word with "er" added, and there is a "rule" in English that when a short word ending in a consonant has "er" appended that the consonant is doubled. But "proper" is not the word "prop" with "er" added.) – Hot Licks Feb 16 '17 at 12:45
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    There are hundreds of such "rules" in English. They are really just "guidelines" for spelling and pronunciation -- they're usually correct and can help you spell a word you've never seen written down or pronounce a word you've never heard spoken. They can easily lead you astray, especially if you don't apply them with some judgement. But you can't really work with English without being aware of at least a few of them. – Hot Licks Feb 16 '17 at 13:00
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    English spelling is a tangled mess of ‘rules’ (in inverted commas) and exceptions (in bold). That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. In Latin, the o was long and the p was short, and since Latin only denotes length in consonants, one o and one p made sense. In French, vowel length was no longer phonemic, so the o was shortened. In English, they just kept spelling it how the French did, though they did eventually decide that propre didn’t look as nice and English as proper. It has been spelt in tons of ways historically, though: the OED lists no less than 22 (plus three that are → – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 16 '17 at 13:01
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    'Proper' is spelled with two Ps! ;-) – Spagirl Feb 16 '17 at 14:07
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Copper comes from Old English, where it was spelled coper. It was probably spelled with two p's in Early Modern English because it was a short vowel, and there was a tendency to double consonants after a short vowel.

Proper comes from French propre, and before then from Latin proprius. It was probably spelled with one p in Early Modern English because there was a tendency to stick closely to Latin spellings (e.g. debt, which never was pronounced with a /b/ in English, but which had the 'b' added in Early Modern English because it originally came from Latin debitum.)

As the comments noted, all of the others come from a one-syllable word with the suffix -er added. The rule (simplified) is to double the consonant after a short vowel when you add the suffix -er.

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