We are all familiar with crocodiles. We know, love, and recognize them in many European languages:
- German: Krokodil
- French: crocodile
- Portuguese: crocodilo
- Russian: крокодил
But perhaps it comes as a surprise that other modern languages put the "r" in a different spot:
- Italian: coccodrillo
- Spanish: cocodrilo
- Catalan: cocodril
The OED gives us the following colorful etymology, which shows all these forms emerging from a corrupt Medieval Latin cocodrillus--and, at least in some cases, they were corrected back!
Middle English cocodrille, cokadrill, etc. < Old French cocodrille (13–17th cent.) = Provençal cocodrilh, Spanish cocodrilo, Italian coccodrillo, medieval Latin cocodrillus, corruption of Latin crocodīlus (also corcodilus), < Greek κροκόδειλος, found from Herodotus downward. The original form after Greek and Latin was restored in most of the modern languages in the 16–17th cent.: French crocodile (in Paré), Italian crocodillo (in Florio), Spanish crocodilo (in Percival).
I thought this completely answered my question, but I found at least one competing etymology that suggests that the "-drilo" does belong! The The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories --which is echoed also by the etymology given in a Google word search--says the following:
[alteration (influenced by Latin crocodilus) of Middle English cocodrille, from Old French, from Medieval Latin cocodrillus, alteration of Latin crocodilus, corcodillus, from Greek krokodeilos, krokodilos, alteration of (assumed) krokodrilos, from krokē pebble + drilos worm]
I have a lot of related quetions:
- Is the latter etymology just wrong about the supposed origin in Greek "krokodrilos"?
- If not, is it pure happenstance that the Medieval "corruption" of crocodilus happened to move the "r" to a place that it existed originally?
- Most importantly: Why shouldn't we start pedantically over-correcting to "crocodriles"?