why do I have a sig-nah-cher instead of a sine-ah-cher?

THE FOLLOWING RAMBLE from me to you was borne of a thought that meandered into my head at 3:30 this morning. And, as the title tells you, it deals with the pronunciation of a word: signature (sig-nah-cher). The modern English word sign as a noun originally meant “a gesture or motion of the hand, especially one meant to communicate something.” It is derived from the Old French signe for “sign, mark.”

Signe is pronounced (more or less) as ‘seen-eh’ and it evolved into our pronunciation of ‘sīn’ (with a long ‘a’ as in ‘eye’) or ‘sine’ (also with a long ‘a’ and a silent ‘e’ at the end—a useless habit that needs to be dropped).

If sign is pronounced ‘sine’ then why isn’t signature pronounced ‘sine-a-cher’?

The modern English word sign as a verb means “to affix one’s name” and is also from the Old French signier, which means “to make a sign to someone, to mark.” It is also pronounced (more or less) as ‘seen-eh.’

Modern English signature is from the Middle French signatura, which originally meant “to mark with a stamp.” Signatura is (more or less) pronounced as ‘seen-yah-tyoor.’

They are both derived from the Latin signare, “to set a mark upon” and this was adapted from Online Etymology Dictionary.

So, I wrote all of the above (most of which most of us never need to know) to ask this rather trivial question: If sign is pronounced ‘sine’ then why isn’t signature pronounced ‘sine-a-cher’?

Or, knowing what we now know about the Old French words, how did the French word pronounced ‘seen-yah-tyoor’ evolve into the English pronunciation of ‘SIG-nah-cher’ instead of ‘SINE-ah-cher’?


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HEADER IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of William Strunk Jr, author of The Elements Of Style (1919). His original volume of fifty-three pages was revised and expanded by one of his students, the famous children’s book author E.B. White in 1959. It is one of the best selling and most influential books of it type. One of the categories of this site is named for the two authors: “Strunkandwhiten It!” For more information, refer to “On William Strunk and Elements of Style.”

Comments and arguments welcome!