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The word hammock comes from Spanish hamaca.

type of hanging bed, 1650s, alteration of hamack, hamaca (1550s), from Spanish hamaca, from Arawakan (Haiti) word apparently meaning "fish nets" (compare Yukuna hamaca, Taino amaca). - Etymonline

It could have been natural to write hamac in English. Why is it written as hammock instead of hamac?

For example, double consonants indicate that the vowel before it is short. The "mm" in "hammock" also does the same thing. But there are exceptions to this. Words like "habit" still pronounce the "a" with the short "a" sound although it is written with a single "b".

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  • Hummock is also spelled with two Ms (and the first vowel is also changed out sometimes so it reads hammock or hommock).
    – Laurel
    Jun 23 at 16:42
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    There's lots of 2-syllable words ending in -ock: hummock, bullock, hillock, mattock, buttock, bollock, etc. Almost certainly an influence.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 23 at 16:44
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    The OED gives the following forms of the word hammock: α. 1500s–1800s hamaca, 1600s hamacca, hamacco, hamackoe, hammacho, 1700s hamacoe, 1700s–1800s hammacoe. β. 1600s hamack(e, hammac(k, hammaque, amack, hamock, hammok, 1700s hammoc, 1700s–1800s hamac, 1600s– hammock. Jun 23 at 17:05
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    So the Spanish spelling was used when it was first adapted into English, but people forgot that it was a Spanish word while English spelling was still in flux (in the 17th and 18th centuries). So the spelling that was eventually settled on was not influenced by Spanish. Jun 23 at 17:11
  • @PeterShor Sounds like it's worth a write-up; many of us poorer relations on the site don't have access to OED. Jun 23 at 18:03

2 Answers 2

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I've found an interesting explanation regarding the origin and the adoption of the spelling of hammock. It is suggested that the term hamaca was misapplied by Columbus and his sailors which was intended for the native trees where the hammocks were hung, in the Caribbean (some sources suggest the Bahamas*, some suggest Haiti*, some suggest Fernandina island*) where they discovered it. These sleeping nets were used by the indigenous people called the Taíno and the Arawak. It is added that Bartram and his colleagues adapted the spelling hommock, then it changed to hammock.

Here is the relevant excerpt:

"Hammock, hommock, or hummock?" queried R. M. Harper in 1905; his answer was one of many attempts by botanists to reduce confusion over the classification of southeastern plant communities. Harper (1905) concluded that a hummock is a geographic feature, a rounded knoll, whereas "hammock" and "hommock" are synonyms for dense, hardwood forests that occur in limited areas amid the wet prairies, marshes, and pine forests of the coastal plain.

The etymoloogy of "hammock" and "hommock" is obscure (Oxford English Dictionary 1933). Columbus' sailors learned to use net "hammocks," hanging beds, from Caribbean Indians; perhaps they misapplied the Arawak term, hamacas, intended for the woods in which the sleeping nets were hung. Bartram (1791) and other early expositors of Florida's natural history employed the "hommock" spelling, perhaps in keeping with native pronunciation, but "hammock" became the prevalent form in the writings of the twentieth century.

The ecology of hydric hammocks: a community profile
Biological Report 85(7.26)
By: Susan W. Vince, Stephen R. Humphrey, and Robert W. Simons
https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70110600

Here is a relevant sketch I've found from the book Columbus and His First Voyage: A History in Documents (edited by James E. Wadsworth):

enter image description here


Additional good read about the word hammock and its origin:
'Hammock,' 'Hommock' or 'Hummock'?
Author(s): Roland M. Harper
Source: Science , Sep. 29, 1905, New Series, Vol. 22, No. 561 (Sep. 29, 1905), pp. 400-402
Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1633491

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The OED gives the early forms of the spelling of hammock:

α. 1500s–1800s hamaca, 1600s hamacca, hamacco, hamackoe, hammacho, 1700s hamacoe, 1700s–1800s hammacoe. β. 1600s hamack(e, hammac(k, hammaque, amack, hamock, hammok, 1700s hammoc, 1700s–1800s hamac, 1600s– hammock.

So it looks like for the first hundred years or so, hammock was spelled very much like the Spanish hamaca.

However, English spelling was not at all consistent at that time; people spelled words how they sounded. Spelling didn't become fixed until some time in the 1700s, and by then, hammock was an English word—clearly the pronunciation had changed to drop the last syllable, and presumably the stress had changed to the first syllable. Since probably most people had forgotten by then that the word was originally Spanish, the eventual spelling that was settled on had no Spanish influence.

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