Mosquito > Moschito > Mosquito

/məˈskito/ — [mɒˈskiːtəʊ], [məˈskiːtəʊ], [mɒˈskitoʊ], [məˈskitoʊ]

The name of this insect is spelled with the letters ‹qu› in several languages, including Catalan mosquit, Spanish mosquito, French moustique, Galician mosquito, and Portuguese mosquito (also borrowed Hmong and Lao mosquito).

Its original name in Latin was culex but in Italian, it is called a zanzara, derived from zinzala the more recent Latin name. Evidently, the English borrowed the Spanish term, mosquito, but a number of English authors, for some unexplained reason, preferred spelling the /ki/ sound using the letters ‹chi›. For example,

  1. The tortures we received on the river, from the moschitos, were beyond imagination. We had provided ourselves with guetres, and moschito clothes; but to very little purpose. The whole day we were in continual motion to keep them off;

The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer, 1759

  1. The moschito does not, it is true, commence its annoying operations till after the very warmest weather of the summer; but, having once taken wing, nothing will stop its flight but a real frost; so that it is almost fairly winter before this malignant ...

Journal of a Tour in Italy, and also in part of France and Switzerland, 1830

  1. Entomology, confined within limits such as these, is a dull, worthless, and contemptible study.

    This branch of natural history, however, has a wider range and nobler field of usefulness; and though some pseudo philosophers have sneered at the diminutive creatures thus contemplated, they show but the feebleness of their own understanding. Insulated, they may occasionally appear of little note, but with a commission from above become “as the armies of the living God.” The contemptible moschito may drive man to madness and the zimb of Chaldea make even the rhinoceros tremble and flee before it.

Researches in Natural History, 1830

  1. ...the circle of his flight [the bald eagle] grows less; now he appears a small speck, and now no bigger than the tip end of the hair of a moscheto's eyebrow; now he is out of sight in the deep blue heaven.

The New-England Magazine, 1831, and further still…

Of the Fly-catcher tribe, […] These birds, as their appellation signifies, live solely on flies, moschetoes, bugs, etc.

Etymonline says

mosquito (n)

1580s, from Spanish mosquito "little gnat," diminutive of mosca "fly," from Latin musca "fly," from PIE root *mu- "gnat, fly," imitative of insect buzzing (compare Sanskrit maksa-, Greek myia, Old English mycg, Modern English midge, Old Church Slavonic mucha), perhaps imitative of the sound of humming insects.


Chestions

  1. Why did these writers choose to spell mosquito with ‹ch› instead of the easier ‹qu›? The letter ‹k› could have been used to imitate the /ki/ sound. After all, in German it is spelled Moskito, which works perfectly fine.

  2. Does anyone know the history of this word's spelling?


The following questions on EL&U are related but do not explain why mosquito was also spelled moschito in English.

Yes. Yes yes yes all right. The ‹qu› in "questions is pronounced /kw/ not /ki/. There's no need to quick up a fuss, I'm just having a bit of fun :)

  • 2
    The earliest dictionary spelling I've been able to find is muscheto, which appears in Edward Phillips's The New World of Words (1658). Elisha Coles, An English Dictionary (1692) uses the same spelling and says that the word comes from Italian moschetta "a little fly." John Kersey, Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708), is the first lexicographer to include an entry under the spelling moschetto, although he also has an entry for "muscheto or moschetto." As the 18th century progresses, the spelling moschetto seems to dominate. But Noah Webster (1806 & later) prefers musketoe. – Sven Yargs Aug 18 '17 at 0:16
  • 1
    ...(Oddly, Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary seems not to include any spelling of the word.) English might have stayed with the spelling moschetto if not for Webster's crusade for simplified, semi-phonetic spelling, which helped torpedo moschetto in the United States without fully establishing musketoe in its stead. But additional research is necessary to strengthen (or explode) that hypothesis. – Sven Yargs Aug 18 '17 at 0:31
  • 2
    @SvenYargs you're back!! Welcome back, we've all missed you :) – Mari-Lou A Aug 18 '17 at 1:46
  • 3
    “Chestions” is an amazing touch – Chase Ryan Taylor Aug 21 '17 at 1:10
  • 1
    @Eddy , That was a bit of intentional fun on Mari-Lou's part. I expect it will get reversed by somebody. – Phil Sweet Oct 28 at 11:21
up vote 29 down vote accepted

My answer focuses on how the spelling of mosquito evolved in English dictionaries between 1658 and 1909. In this narrow sense, I’m trying to track the history of the word’s spelling.


Walking with the dictionaries

Here is a chronological journey through the spellings of mosquito that appear in the various dictionaries that I consulted.

Thomas Blount, Glossographia Or a Dictionary: Interpreting All Such Hard Words (1656) is the earliest dictionary I found to address the pernicious bug:

Muscheto, a kind of Gnat. Herb. Tr.

I have not been able to identify the source that Blount cites for his spelling of the word. Searches of William Turner, A New Herball (1551) and John Gerard, The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plants (1597), for example, yield no matches for muscheto.

Two years later, Edward Phillips, The New World of Words (1658) offers a somewhat more nuanced description:

Muscheto, a kind of Insect so called, somewhat resembling a gnat.

Elisha Coles, An English Dictionary (1676) adds an etymology to an Italian root word:

Muscheto, (Moschetta, I. a little fly) a kind of Gnat.

The entry remains unchanged in the 1717 edition of Coles.

The author of Glossographia Anglicana Nova (1707)—not Thomas Blount, who died in 1679—seems to have cribbed Phillips's definition:

Muscheto, a kind of Insect somewhat resembling a Gnat.

Edward Phillips & John Kersey, The New World of Words, sixth edition (1709) has two entries:

Moschetto, a kind of stinging Gnat ; very troublesome in the West-Indies.

...

Muscheto or Moschetto, a kind of Insect, somewhat resembling a Gnat ; which is very common and troublesome in many Parts of Africa and America, as also in the hottest countries of Asia.

The same entries appear in the seventh edition of Phillips & Kersey (1720), and essentially the same entries appear in Kersey, Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708), continuing through at least the third edition (1721).

Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary, second edition (1724) has this:

MOSCHETTO, a stinging Gnat, very troublesome in the West Indies.

...

MUSCHETO. See Moschetto.

Editions of this dictionary through the 21st edition (1775) continue to include both of these entries. Oddly enough, however, Editions of Bailey’s The New Universal English Dictionary, fifth edition (1760) moves the entry for moscheto/muschetto to appear alphabetically between murther and muscles:

MOSCHETO [or] MUSCHETTO (in America, &c.) a very common and troublesome insect, something resembling a gnat.

Thomas Dyche & William Pardon, A New General English Dictionary (1735) has a much expanded definition that focuses on what is now known as the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua:

MOSCHETTOS or MOSKITTOS (S.) A small Indian Nation on the North Side of the Continent of America, near Cape Gracia Dios, who are so dexterous in throwing and avoiding all sorts of Darts, that they will defend themselves from being hurt, tho’ their Enemies throw ’em very thick ; they are generally very kind to the English, and have no form of Government among ’em, but own the King of England for their Sovereign, and learn to use the English Language, esteeming the Governor of Jamaica as one of the great Princes in the World ; also a very troublesome small Insect that afflicts the West-Indians, by stinging them very severely.

This entry persists unaltered through the eleventh edition of Dyche & Pardon (1760).

John Kersey, A New English Dictionary, fourth edition (1739) also has two entries:

A Moschetto, a stinging Gnat in the West-Indies.

A Muscheto, or Moschetto, a troublesome Insect.

The seventh edition of Kersey (1757) drops the entry for muscheto, however.

Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language (1756) contains no entry for any spelling of mosquito, although (as RaceYouAnytime observes in a note elsewhere on this page) his entry for gnat specifies that the latter word refers to “a small winged stinging insect,” which might be taken as synonymous with mosquito. However, so many contemporaneous and earlier dictionaries do have entries for mosquito in one spelling or another that I doubt Johnson omitted it on the reasoning that having an entry for gnat obviated the need for an entry for mosquito. Whatever the case may be, H. J. Todd’s revision of Johnson’s Dictionary (1818) includes the following entry:

MUSKITTO [or] MUSQUITTO n. s. {musca, Lat} A stinging fly or gnat of the Indies. [First cited example:] They paint themselves to keep off the muskitas. Purchas, Pilgrim[age]. (1617,) p. 1085. [Second cited example:] If in writing voyages you have occasion to send messengers through uninhabited country,—infest them with musquittos. Cambridge.

Purchas is Samuel Purchas, and his book is Purchas His Pilgrimage; Or, Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in All Ages and Places ... (1617), which includes this observation about the natives of Dominica (on page 953 of the 1626 edition):

Master George Peercie relateth of the Dominicans (which they visited in their Virginia Voyage) that they paint themselves to keep off the Muskitas : that they weare the haire of their heads a yard long, platted in three plaits, suffer none on their faces, cut their skinnes in diuers Workes or Embroderies: ...

John Ash, The New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1775) returns to the complication of there being an insect and a New World region with similar names:

MOSCHETTO (s. in the history of insects) A kind of gnat exceedingly troublesome in some parts of the West Indies.

...

MOSKITO (s. in geography) A country in North America, a part of Mexico or New Spain.

...

MUSCHETO, MUSCHETTO (s. in the history of insects) A kind of gnat exceedingly troublesome in some parts of America.

Evidently, Ashe takes the view that the moschetto is a West Indian gnat, whereas the muscheto (or muschetto) is an American gnat.

Thomas Sheridan, A Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1780) reverts to a single spelling:

MOSCHETTO s. A kind of gnat exceedingly troublesome in some part of the West Indies.

The same entry appears in Sheridan’s second edition (1789) and in Stephen Jones, Sheridan Improved: A General Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language (1798).

At the turn of the nineteenth century, then, most dictionaries seem committed to moschetto, muscheto, or both. John Walker, A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, and Expositor of the English Language (1807) doesn’t do much to rock the boat:

MOSCHETO, s. A kind of gnat exceedingly troublesome in some part of the West Indies and America.

But Noah Webster, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806) does:

Musketoe, n. a vexatious insect

Where did musketoe come from? A Google search turns up just one source for it older than Webster’s first dictionary—Michel Adanson, A Voyage to Senegal: The Isle of Goreé, and the River Gambia (1759):

The same day we arrived before sunset at the Musketoe trading-place ; where was to be the sale of cattle. This being the first port we meet with, in going up the Niger, the same is practiced here, as at sea by those who pass the tropic : the French, the first time they come this way, are bound to make a present to the laptots; and therefore I gave them the usual gratuity. The Musketoe trading-place is only thirteen leagues to the north ¼ north-east of the island of Senegal.

It bears noting that the term Musketoe here refers to a place name in West Africa, making it a less than ideal precedent for the spelling of a gnat widely identified in the early nineteenth century as endemic to the West Indies and America. I think it is more than likely that Webster based his spelling on his personal preference for relatively phonetic orthography. That is to say, he made it up. He persisted in it, too. His American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) has this entry:

MUSKETOE, n. {Sp. Port. mosquito, from Sp. mosca, L. musca, a fly.} A small insect of the genus Culex, that is bred in water; a species of gnat that abounds in marshes and low lands, and whose sting is peculiarly painful and vexatious.

The 1842 abridged version of his complete 1840 second edition dictionary indicates that Webster is relenting slightly:

MUSKETOE, MUSQUETOE, n. {Sp. Port. mosquito.} A small insect of the genus culex, that is bred in water; a species of gnat that abounds in marshes and low lands, and whose sting is peculiarly painful and vexatious.

The 1847 edition of Webster’s dictionary—the first one published following Noah Webster’s death and the Merriam brothers’ acquisition of publishing rights to it—goes a step further, adding a cross-reference entry for mosquito (“See MUSQUITO”) and putting the main entry under the key words “MUSQUITO, MUSKETO,” although it concludes the definition there with a note insisting that musketo is better:

This word has been spelled in various ways, but MUSQUITO and MOSQUITO are most prevalent, though the anglicized form MUSKETO would be preferable to either.

Preferable to Noah Webster, anyway. The 1864 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language almost entirely gives up the musketo cause, offering instead these two entries:

Mosquito, n. pl. MOSQUITOES {Sp. & Pg. mosquito, from Sp. mosca, Lat. musca, fly; Fr. moustique.} (Entom[ology) A small insect, of several different species, of the genus Culex, having a sharp pointed proboscis, by means of which it punctures the skins of animals and sucks their blood, the minute wounds thus made being often attended with swelling and a considerable amount of pain. ... {Written also musketo, musquito.}

...

Musquito, n. {Sp. & Pg. mosquito, from Sp. mosca, Lat. musca, fly; Fr. moustique.} A small insect of the genus Culex, that is bred in water; a species of gnat that abounds in marshes and low lands, and whose sting is peculiarly painful and vexatious. {Written also mosquito.}

Webster’s International Dictionary (1890) took the unusual step of reintroducing an entry for musketo; but it, like the entry for musquito, now said merely “See MOSQUITO.” Finally, in Webster’s New International Dictionary (1909) all mention of musketo and musquito vanished.

Interestingly, Joseph Worcester, A Universal and Critical Dictionary of the English Language (1850) endorsed mosquito well before his enemy Webster did:

MOSQUITO n. (mosquito, Sp.) pl. MOSQUITOS. A very troublesome insect, of the genus culex ; a large kind of gnat. It is variously written musquito, musquetoe, moscheto, moschetto, mosquetoe, mosquetto, muscheto, muschetto, musketoe, muskitto, musqueto, and musquitto.

In fact, Worcester had included mosquito as one of two valid spellings of the word in his Comprehensive Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language (1830), before Webster acknowledged the spelling at all:

Mosquito, n. a troublesome insect.

...

Musquetoe, n. a troublesome insect. See Mosquito.


What are we to make of all this?

The key developments chronologically are as follows:

1658 Muscheto first appears

1708 Moschetto emerges as an alternative spelling.

1735 The spellings Moschettos and Moskittos appear in the context of the Miskito region of Central America—and of biting insects.

1760 The variants moscheto and muschetto appear.

1775 Moskito appears as the name of the American region.

1806 Noah Webster introduces musketoe.

1818 Muskitto and musquitto appear as the two options in Todd's revision of Johnson's dictionary.

1830 Joseph Worcester lists mosquito and musquetoe as valid spellings.

1840 Webster acknowledges musquetoe as a variant of musketoe.

1847 Webster’s changes the two approved spellings to musketo and musqitoe, adds a cross-reference entry for mosquito, and concedes that musquito and mosquito are the most common spellings.

1850 Worcester lists mosquito as the primary spelling of the word.

1909 Webster’s drops entries for any spelling but mosquito.

On this record, it seems to me that by 1800 moschetto and muscheto were fairly strongly established in dictionaries as the preferred English spelling of the word. The case for either or both would have been stronger if Samuel Johnson had endorsed it or them, but he demurred, for reasons unknown.

Then came the upheaval of 1806, when Noah Webster, as part of his simplified spelling scheme, introduced musketoe, essentially out of the blue. Although this innovation began to fade after less than half a century, it seems to have helped knock out both moschetto and muscheto. They don’t appear as entries—even as cross reference entries—in any of the U.S. dictionaries I checked from the period 1806–1909.

One inexplicable shift that occurred soon after the debut of musketoe was Todd's replacement in 1818 of the perennial English favorites muscheto and moschetto in his revision of Johnson's dictionary with muskitto and musquitto. It isn't out of the question that he was influenced by the debut of musketoe in Webster's 1806 Compendious Dictionary, but I think it's rather more likely that the impetus came from somewhere else—I just don't know where. Webster's serious claim to international fame was his 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language—ten years after Todd's revision of Johnson appeared. The demise of muscheto and moschetto in England is not yet satisfactorily explained.

A major factor that I didn’t examine in any detail may be the Linnaean revolution in species naming. Linnaeus published Systema Naturae in 1735, but the interest in species categorization grew stronger and stronger as science advanced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With the differentiation of scientific names came a stronger motivation to distinguish the common names of similar-looking species. The effect in this case, I suspect, was to give serious prominence to the word mosquito at a time when the traditional spellings of the English word had gone into eclipse and yet no one was especially enthusiastic about the new, semi-phonetic options musketoe and muskitto.

Presented with a vacuum in preferred spelling, the entomologists who took on the serious business of naming species of Culex and assigning them distinct common names seem to have found the imported spelling mosquito appealing, and they gravitated to it. In any event, adoption of the new spelling seems to have happened surprisingly quickly: by 1830 Worcester was listing mosquito as the primary spelling, though it seems to have been virtually unknown thirty years earlier.

Many different spellings of mosquito appear in English, from the time of the first OED example in 1572 - muskito. But muscheto does not seem to appear until the early nineteenth century. From the 1830s the spelling settles as mosquito and remains thus until the present time.

My guess,and it is only a guess, is that the use of mosquito (in English) began in earnest after Britain became heavily involved in Africa and the Far East. The insects had perhaps acquired their western nomenclature from the Portuguese, and they also perhaps differed from the gnats of Europe.

During my childhood in 1940/50s I never heard people refer to any insect in Britain as a "mosquito". The only "mosquitoes" I heard about were the ones my father had had to protect himself against whilst serving in India and Burma during the second world war.

I don't recall seeing the word mosquito in either Shakespeare nor the James I version of the bible. ("Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel" Matthew 23:24 AV) It is interesting that the modern translations of the bible do not translate gnats as mosquitoes, even the passages in Exodus, where clearly the land of Egypt is where the action is taking place - and nowadays such insects would be known, in English, as mosquitoes.

1572 H. Hawks in Writings & Corr. Two Richard Hakluyts (1935) i. 97 A certeine gnat or flie which they call a Muskito, which biteth both men and women in their sleepe.

1585 R. Grenville in Hakluyt's Voy. 1589 M. Philips in R. Hakluyt Princ. Navigations iii. 568 Wee were also oftentimes greatly annoyed with a kinde of flie,..the Spanyards called them Musketas.

1600 M. Sutcliffe Briefe Refut. Calumnious Relation Conf. vii. 35 in Briefe Replie to Libel He is like a flye, or rather, because he speaketh so much for Spaniards, a Spanish mosqueta.

1623 R. Whitbourne Disc. New-found-land 99 A very little nimble fly..which is called a Muskeito.

1634 W. Wood New Englands Prospect i. xi. 46 The fourth is a Musketor which is not unlike to our gnats in England.

1655 E. Terry Voy. E.-India 123 In the night we were..very much disquieted with another sort [of fly] called Musqueetoes.

1665 T. Herbert Some Years Trav. (new ed.) 128 Howbeit the Muskitto's or Gnatts pestered us extremely.

1672 W. Hughes Amer. Physitian 9 That very small black and poysonous Fly, called a Muscato.

1702 C. Mather Magnalia Christi vi. i. 7/1 They were..grievously infested with Moscheto's.

1740 C. Cibber Apol. Life C. Cibber xvi. 340 While these buzzing Muscatos have been fluttering round their Eyes, and Ears.

1745 London Mag. 396 Peach Trees..which are Nurseries of Muskettos and other Vermin.

1747 B. Franklin Let. in Wks. (1887) II. 98 If a musqueto..were to light on one of them.

1796 J. G. Stedman Narr. Exped. Surinam II. xx. 90 We were almost devoured by the clouds of gnats or musquitoes, which arose from a neigbouring marsh.

1825 J. Neal Brother Jonathan I. 217 Kept awake all the night before by the wolves or moschettoes.

1837 W. S. Landor Pentameron in Wks. (1853) II. i. 310/2 The peopled region is peopled chiefly with monsters and moschitoes.

1838 E. Bulwer-Lytton Alice II. iv. ix. 44 At Venice I was bit to death by musquitos.

  • 4
    I think the question is about why the "qu" spelling prevailed over the "ch" and the "k" ones. – user66974 Aug 17 '17 at 15:42
  • 2
    @Josh And my answer supplies my guess at an explanation of that. I suspect it was copied from Portuguese, or Spanish, and applied specifically to those species that carried dread diseases. – WS2 Aug 17 '17 at 15:52
  • The idea that only foreign gnats were called mosquitoes certainly seems borne out by the quotes. Although I'm not so sure about your disease explanation — the link of malaria and yellow fever to mosquitoes wasn't known until around 1900. – Peter Shor Aug 17 '17 at 15:59
  • 1
    @PeterShor Interesting, I hadn't taken account of that. It is still the case, incidentally, that people in Britain rarely refer to local insects as mosquitoes. We do in our family as my wife is a Malaysian - but to most British people "mosquitoes" are associated with the tropics - or certainly warmer places than Britain. – WS2 Aug 17 '17 at 16:08
  • 2
    @PeterShor Here's an interesting postscript to your nonetheless relevant point, which I found on a malaria site One of the oldest scripts, written several thousand years ago in cuneiform script on clay tablets, attributes malaria to Nergal, the Babylonian god of destruction and pestilence, pictured as a double-winged, mosquito-like insect. – WS2 Aug 17 '17 at 19:00

It's hard to formulate a convincing argument as to why writers chose to adopt the spelling "moschito" and then abandon it in favor of "mosquito" again.

(Per OED, the "mosquito" spelling was used from the 1600's to present, while "moschito" was used from the 1700's through the 1800's. So the "mosquito" spelling is both older and more recent than "moschito.")

As has been pointed out in other answers, OED lists various forms, and several newspaper clippings from the 1800's referring to "moschitos" go out of their way to point out the lack of consensus.

"I stood on the bridge at midnight," the anything but genial "mosquito," mosketo," "moschetto," mosquetto," muschetto," mushetto," or musquetto," sings on these cool, damp evenings St. Louis has been enjoying during the past week.

A correspondent says, that the "moschitos" -- each writer has his own way of spelling the word -- have betaken themselves to the sleeping-cars on the road.

Following dictionary history

Some clues as to how the consensus spelling was reached can be found by examining old dictionary entries. The 1828 edition of Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language lists the proper spelling as Musketoe. No entry for "mosquito" was included.

MUSKE'TOE, noun [Latin musca, a fly.] A small insect of the genus Culex, that is bred in water; a species of gnat that abounds in marshes and low lands, and whose sting is peculiarly painful and vexatious

This spelling was maintained in the 1841 edition

However, in the 1847 edition, an entry was added for mosquito, redirecting the reader to musqueto, which was still listed alongside the spelling musketo.

The 1864 edition, which also added etymology notes to its entries, finally included a complete entry for "mosquito."

enter image description here

The expansion of access to quality dictionaries played a significant role in solidifying the spelling of words in English, and following the prescribed spellings provided by Webster suggests a settling on the spelling "mosquito" in the 1800's, just as OED lists that form of the word.

  • Just a thought, have you checked Samuel Johnson's dictionary first printed in 1755? Maybe it's listed or maybe it's not, but I'd be surprised if he chose to spell -ki- with either CHI or CHE – Mari-Lou A Aug 17 '17 at 23:09
  • @Mari-LouA I just checked the 1785 edition, and I couldn't find any entry for "mosquito" in any form, but the entry for "gnat" reads "a small winged stinging insect." So I'm guessing maybe Johnson was sticking with the older English use of "gnat" for what we now call "mosquitoes." link volume 1 // link volume 2 – RaceYouAnytime Aug 17 '17 at 23:26
  • It looks from your first quote that the pronunciation might not have been settled either (not just the vowels -- the variant mushetto lacks a c, k or q presumably also in sound) – Chris H Aug 18 '17 at 12:08

In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

If mosquito, however spelled, is intended to be a diminutive of Latin musca, then someone must have known that in modern Latin dialects when one adds a suffix beginning with I to a root ending in C, spelling can vary. In Spanish one changes the C to QU; in Italian, to CH. And when this word started to be used a lot, the Romance languages were much more dialectal and various, and so were their spellings. I suspect that's the best you're going to do, @MariLouA.

Sven Yargs's answer currently seems to be the most complete account of the history of the spelling.

I just wanted to add my arguments supporting the idea that the spelling of the sound /k/, particularly in loanwords like this, has often been uncertain.

As Alok notes, there are many established words in English pronounced with /k/ and spelled with "ch", so this correspondence can be considered to be part of the English spelling system (although it is not particularly common, and tends to be restricted to words originating from particular languages like Greek and Italian). However, words spelled with "ch" may also develop a "spelling pronunciation" with /tʃ/, as Hot Licks suggests (although I don't actually know of any evidence for a pronunciation with /tʃ/ being used for the word "moschito").

Some similar spelling variations seem to have existed for some other words, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

Bronco and also "Broncho"

Sven Yargs had a question (and answer) a while back about the old spelling variant "broncho" of the word "bronco", from Spanish bronco: Thrown by 'broncho.' Or is it 'bronco'? Or 'bronc'? There is an interesting section in the answer that indicates that some speakers had a corresponding pronunciation variant with /tʃ/ for that word, citing the two following sources:

Sven's paragraph suggesting an explanation:

Strictly as a matter of speculation, I suspect that the U.S. border regions of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California had enough interaction with Spanish-speaking fellow citizens and with Mexicans that the spelling and pronunciation bronco were frequently reinforced. For people far away from the border, however there was no such natural corrective, which might lead to popularization of the spelling (and pronunciation) broncho catching on and lingering among English speakers who had no native familiarity with the word.

Hacamore, Hackamore, and also "Hachamore"

Josh had a question a while back about another loanword from Spanish, "hackamore" from jáquima: From the Spanish "xaquima" to the AmE "hackamore"

The OED lists the following "Forms": "18– hacamore, 18– hackamore, 19– hackimore."

I was also able to find some examples of "hachamore" via Google search, although it's obviously nowhere near as common as "hackamore" and the people who use it often seem to be using non-standard spelling:

  • "Breaking Horses with Kindness", Our Paper, Volume 37 (1920):

    When they had seen him go into the corral, without whip, rope or hachamore, and had seen him pet, saddle and ride the most vicious horse in the bunch within three hours; when they had seen the trembling "outlaw" rub its nose against his shoulder and eat out of his hand—they said it was hypnotism or magic.

  • Horse and Hound Forums > HHO Archive > Tack Room Archive > Dr Cooks bitless bridle., comment by potty_4_piebalds (16-06-10, 10:44 PM):

    A friend of mine uses a bitless bridle but im not sure if its the Dr cooks one but its not a hachamore.

The 'CH' at the beginning of a word can represent multiple different phonemes:

CHi (ˈtʃɪ)

Chicken, Chide, Chief, Child, Chink, Chip, Chisel, Chit

kī (kaɪˈ)

Chiral, Chiropractor, Chimera

SHə (ʃɪˈ)

Chicanery

SHi (ʃɪˈ)

Chiffon

Note: Referenced from the Google word definitions box. The phoneme in brackets is IPA version from MacMillan dictionary.

From this, you can observe that

  • There are comparatively far fewer words that use phoneme (which would be used by moschito)
  • Most prevalent phoneme associated with 'chi' is CHi
  • If you look up the use over time for these phrases, other than 'chimera' being more common in early 19th century (18xx) the other two words from are very rare and only gained currency in mid-20th century.

Considering there were multiple competing spellings for Mosquito / Moschito etc., people possibly found the 'moschito' version very confusing to pronounce correctly and gravitated to alternatives instead.

  • Changing due to the -schi- letters occurring together is an interesting hypothesis. – Lawrence Aug 17 '17 at 23:56
  • 1
    Like all the dictionaries I've checked, I have the same pronuciation for the chi in both chicanery and chiffon (Oxford: /ʃɪˈkeɪnəri/, /ˈʃɪfɒn/. Where are they pronounced differently? – Chris H Aug 18 '17 at 15:23
  • @ChrisH Type them into Google's search box and check the top box in result. Dunno where they source their results from. – Alok Aug 18 '17 at 17:30
  • 1
    Could you please transform your CHi and SHi etc... into standard IPA? For example, chicken is transcribed as /ˈtʃɪk.ɪn/ etc. – miroxlav Aug 19 '17 at 10:08

Keep in mind that work didn't begin on the OED until 1857, and it was not available in its final form until 1928. Webster's Dictionary was first available in 1806, but it was another 40 years before it achieved general circulation. Prior to 1850 or so people simply guessed at spelling, or copied from someone else. (True, there were dictionaries, including Mr. Johnson's, which were available earlier, but they were neither comprehensive nor widely circulated.) Given that few people had access to a credible dictionary there would be no reason to expect the spelling of such an oddball word to be consistent between diverse writers.

Also keep in mind that there were likely a half-dozen different pronunciations for the word. In particular, some people probably said "mos-key-toe" while others said "mos-chee-toe". Pronunciation was even less standardized than spelling.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.