1
  • Corps = /kɔː(r)/: the PS is silent
  • Coup = /kuː/: the P is silent

Corps

Etymology Dictionary says "from French corps d'armée (16c.), which apparently was picked up in English during Marlborough's campaigns, from French corps (old French cors) "body," from Latin corpus "body""

Wikitionary: From French corps d'armée (literally “army body”), from Latin corpus (“body”)

For the Latin corpus, wikitionary gives this pronunciation in which the P is pronounced: /ˈkor.pus/

Coup

Etymology Dictionary: *from Old French coup, colp "a blow, strike" (12c.), from Medieval Latin colpus, from Vulgar Latin colapus, from Latin colaphus "a cuff, box on the ear," from Greek kolaphos "a blow, buffet, punch, slap," "a lowly word without clear etymology" [Beekes]

Wikitionary: Borrowed from French coup (“blow, strike”), from Late Latin colpus, from Latin colaphus. Doublet of colpus.

For the French coup, Wikitionary pronunciation is /ku/.

There's a similar question on Quora, but most answers there says "because English spelling is stupid". One of the answers says "because there's another word corpse" but that doesn't sound reasonable.

What's happening here? Why are the P's silent in these words in English? Can anyone explain it briefly?

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  • 3
    Both from French were originally without p . – user 66974 Jan 29 at 11:01
  • 3
    The 'p' is silent in both French words. – Kate Bunting Jan 29 at 11:18
  • 3
    As the previous comment says, both are originally French, taken into English comparatively recently compared to many French words (corps is early 18th century, many French words came over with the Normans in the 11th century) and hence with the modern French pronunciation. "coup" in English is from expressions such as "coup d'état", "coup de grace", etc, and "corps" apparently from "corps d'armée". If you want to know why the P isn't pronounced in French that's not a question for English Language and Usage. – Stuart F Jan 29 at 11:21
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    There really is no such thing as a "silent letter" because the very notion is based upon a false premise. What makes you think the spelling of English words must somehow reflect their pronunciation? It often enough does not. More often it represents their imagined etymology, as in debt and island, or their pronunciation in some foreign language like Middle English. I'm sure we've explained all this before. – tchrist Jan 29 at 14:19
  • 1
    All letters are silent. They're visual symbols and make no noise. The noise is in our imagination, and that remembers how we pronounce words, if we're native speakers. If we're not, who knows what gets remembered? Clearly there are no reliable pronunciation rules for Modern English orthography; for Middle English, the rules work well enough. Of course, few need to speak Middle English, so they mostly don't work at all. – John Lawler Jan 29 at 15:40
1

From a comment by Stuart F:

Both [sc. coup and corps] are originally French, taken into English comparatively recently compared to many French words (corps is early 18th century; many French words came over with the Normans in the 11th century) and hence with the modern French pronunciation. "Coup" in English is from expressions such as "coup d'état", "coup de grace", etc, and "corps" apparently from "corps d'armée".


Although there may now be no 'silent letters' (that is, as should be obvious, no unpronounced characters in a written word), apparently there were 'silent letters' 6 years and 4 months ago, when the silent pee in the 'cupboard' was the topic of the question 'Why is “cupboard” pronounced with a silent “p”?' and its highly upvoted answers. Etc.

At that time (6 years, 4 months ago), questions were apparently approached with the grace and interpreted with the generosity which, although essential for civilized discourse, is not invariably seen here, now. Thus, the self-contradiction of a pronounced but somehow silent "p" went unremarked.

Likewise unremarked with reference to the 'cupboard' question was the absolutely unremarkable philosophical point that 'letters' are characters that merely represent, with all the hair-splitting the possibility of 'representation' may entail, "one or more of the elementary sounds used in speech and language" (OED). Except, of course, when the letters don't represent a sound in a particular case (a given word), in which case 'letters' are "any of the symbols of an alphabet used in written language" (op. cit.).

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