It comes from the Latin musculus (meaning mouse) and Latin has only hard c's. The "c" has somehow become soft or silent during evolution. Why did this happen?

Also, if muscle is pronounced mussle, why isn't muscular pronounced mussular?

  • 7
    It's pronounced muskle by Popeye
    – mgb
    Sep 15, 2011 at 21:44
  • 1
    It's not? Shiver me timbahs!
    – JeffSahol
    Sep 15, 2011 at 23:18

1 Answer 1


There are lots of similar examples with a different consonant: "thistle", "bustle", "whistle", "castle", and so on. I suspect that at some point during the history of English, there was a general sound change: -stle → -sle, and -scle → -sle. It just happened that the only moderately common words that ended with -scle were muscle and corpuscle. In neither of them is the "c" currently pronounced.

The reason that the "c" is still pronounced in "muscular" is that this sound change only happened at the end of a word; it's the same reason the "t" is still pronounced in "castellan".

There are also the rare words "crepuscle" (akin to "crepuscular"), which means twilight, and "arbuscle" (found in Johnson's 1795 dictionary), which meant a small tree or shrub. These words are quite rare nowadays, and I can't find a definitive pronunciation for them on the web.

  • You (and others in fact) are right; the change occurred in English. I was being very hopeful with the French theory. Indeed, French does have a soft 'c', but requires the cedilla. (Spanish almost always has a soft 'c', or a lisped one.)
    – Noldorin
    Sep 17, 2011 at 14:07
  • A quick search documents the well-known silent 'c' in '-scle' endings. This probably originated in Middle English or even Early Modern English out of convenience, I'd propose.
    – Noldorin
    Sep 17, 2011 at 14:08
  • In Shakespeare's time, everybody was still spelling words the way they sounded, so these consonants were presumably in the words in the late 1500s. However, we have from etymonline: *The modern spelling [of mussel], distinguishing the word from muscle, first recorded c.1600, not fully established until 1870s. So I'd say the sound change must have taken place somewhere around 1600. Sep 20, 2011 at 18:55
  • That sounds about right, yeah.
    – Noldorin
    Sep 20, 2011 at 19:09
  • 2
    Just in case anybody is wondering how to pronounce crepuscle or arbuscle, the OED says that they are both pronounced with a silent "c". And both these words seem to have come into English in the mid-17th century, so the sound change (that started around 1600) was likely still going on then, probably depending on your dialect. I'd bet the upper classes (those most likely to use arbuscle and crepuscle) still pronouced the "c" in muscle, while by then some of the lower classes had dropped the "c" from both mussel and muscle (originally the same word). Sep 22, 2011 at 22:38

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