English is widely recognized as one of the world's most difficult languages, due in no small part to its deep, highly irregular orthography. Niggling quirks in pronunciation, freaky verb conjugations, and seemingly non-sensical spelling conventions can all make English downright bewildering, even to native speakers. Take the word "doubt," for example. Most well-read (well-written?) English-speakers will tell you: the "b" is silent. But if it's silent, why is that "b" there to begin with?
The lack of what linguists call a "bilabial consonant" in the pronunciation of "doubt" is even more perplexing when you learn that, when it first entered the English lexicon in the thirteenth century, the word was actually spelled "doute" — exactly the same as the French cognate from which it stems1. But as linguistic expert Gina Cooke explains in the TedED video down below, it wasn't long before scribes began to tinker with the word's spelling, and the English "doute" quickly took on the D-O-U-B-T spelling we know today.
Why would 14C scribes re-insert a silent letter? Well, "doubt" may have origins in the French word "doute," but both share a common ancestor in the Latin verb "dubitare" — a root word that has given rise to related English terms like "dubious" and
"indubitably," each with bilabial consonant intact. But "dubitare" has also engendered words — like "double" and "dubloon" — whose connections with the word "doubt" are less obvious2. But as Cooke explains in this video, the connection is very real — and remarkably interesting, at that.