Take the 2-minute tour ×
Linguistics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional linguists and others with an interest in linguistic research and theory. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The English word crocodile seems to originate from the Latin crocodīlus and Ancient Greek κροκόδιλος. Indeed it has ended up very similar in several modern languages: German (Krokodile), Russian (крокодил), Hungarian (krokodilfélék).

But does anyone know why the Spanish (and only they) moved the r and call it a cocodrilo?

share|improve this question
Oh, that's funny, I didn't know. I have no idea how this metathesis came about (God, I hope it is really metathesis this time). –  Cerberus Feb 21 '13 at 23:01
It is definitely metathesis. Incidentally, the recursive mnemonic for metathesis is methatesis; you can probly guess what haplogy, epenethesis, pocopy, syncpy, and athemtic are. –  jlawler Feb 21 '13 at 23:56
see also en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cocodrilo –  Alex B. Feb 22 '13 at 0:05
@jlawler: Haha, yes, although your pocopy and syncpy are also examples of the phenomenon called polyphonee (sic). –  Cerberus Feb 22 '13 at 0:59
add comment

1 Answer

Actually the word crocodilo is listed in some Spanish dictionaries, but one thing is what dictionaries say and another thing is what real users of language do. Anyway, it seems that this is a case of metathesis, which is a process that reorders the segments of a given string. Thus, perhaps crocodilo became cocodrilo after the /r/ was reordered in the word. In Italian it is very similar: coccodrillo, so Spanish is not the only case as you think. This phenomenon could have started in Latin for crocodilus, and this would explain that Spanish and Italian exhibit the metathesis too.

share|improve this answer
i can confirm that in croatian langage this happens often with little children cannot say: krokodil; but they say: kokrodil. ;) it is considered a slip of the tongue here, as it happens with adults as well. –  b0x0rz Feb 22 '13 at 13:58
It's very hard for me as an English speaker to put the 'r' anywhere other than in the first syllable. –  Nicholas Jul 23 '13 at 13:02
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.