Why isn’t there an “r” in “castle”? And why isn’t there an “r” in “please”?

“Why should there be?” you reply. (It’s always best to answer a question with a question.) Either of the two questions in the title of this post presupposes that an “r” is expected. But why?

A brief (but relevant) digression: I was in a hardware store one day, and a customer came in asking for “sparkle.” The puzzled clerk needed clarification: did she want sequins, perhaps? No. Maybe a special sparkling paint? No, that wasn’t it either. So the customer explained: “You know. The stuff you use to patch small holes in a wall.”

Ah! The light dawned: what she wanted was spackle. Some local Bostonian had told her she should buy spackle, and she unconsciously over-compensated for what she thought was his Boston accent, interpreting him as saying sparkle in his own accent.

But of course he wasn’t. He was really saying spackle.

Armed with that anecdote, can you guess why anyone would expect to see an “r” in either “castle” or “please”? Read on…

Sorry, you need one more piece of background. You are probably familiar with the observation that “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” (Who said that first? I had thought Churchill, but some say Shaw. Others say Wilde. No one knows.) Linguistics professor Lynne Murphy alludes to that statement in the title of her blog, Separated by a Common Language, as she is an American who has been living in Britain for a long time now and has been studying and analyzing the similarities and differences between American and British English.

OK, finally we get to “castle” and “please.” In two fascinating posts, one old and one new, Lynne Murphy (styled as Lynneguist) discusses the surprising “r” issue and several related points of American-British linguistics. At this point, to find out why neither word contains an “r,” just read the two posts yourself and savor what you’re learning!

Categories: Linguistics