|English spelling? Baa!|
This coming Sunday is Easter for Greeks, and others of the Orthodox Church. Traditionally, lamb is eaten.
Why is there a silent "b" in "lamb"?
In Old English, this "b" was pronounced, but by the end of the Middle Ages, people had stopped pronouncing it. Quite sensibly, a few people tried spelling the word "lam" or "lamm", but English spelling has never been sensible, so we stuck with a spelling reflecting a long-dead pronunciation. The same thing happened with "comb" and "dumb", but for the word "crumb", where the explanation is different, tune in to a Wordlady post in June.
We were, however, a little more sensible with the plural form of "lamb". In Old English, this had been lomberu. In the Middle Ages, people reformed it along the lines of other irregular plurals like "children" and "brethren". So for a while we had singular lamb and plural "lambren". This, thank goodness, did not survive, as we decided to make it a regular plural ending in s.
We use the word "lamb" whether the lamb is gambolling in the fields or sitting as a chop on our plates. This is unusual in English, where for most animals we distinguish between the live and cooked versions:
Cow - beef
Sheep - mutton
Calf - veal
Pig/swine - pork
In all these cases the first word is of English origin and the second of French origin. This is a remnant of the Norman Conquest in 1066, after which French cooking terms flooded the language. The usual explanation is that the Anglo-Saxon (English) speakers would have been tending the animals in the fields while the French speakers were roasting them in the aristocratic kitchens.
Thank you to a Wordlady reader for asking about the silent b in "lamb". If you have questions or suggestions for Wordlady, please feel free to send them to me!