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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?

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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 – 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

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.

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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
For now, you've not actually answered the question; you've only described the phenomenon in linguistic terms. Why was there metathesis? – user3503 May 5 '14 at 21:14
Why questions in linguistics are usually unanswerable. We can often answer the how, and sometimes a question like why should this have happened at this time and place rather than anywhere else; but usually we cannot predict that a certain change will or will not happen, or explain why it did or didn't. – Colin Fine May 6 '14 at 16:03
As by Hume, all "why" questions are fundamentally without answer, but still, science is full of attempts to make causal explanations. As an example, a typical phonological answer will often refer to a sound pattern that becomes suboptimal in a diachronic context as triggering change, such as violations of the sonority hierarchy (e.g. when a word is introduced from a language with a different hierarchy and becomes regularised). Either way, I do not see how the fact that "why" questions are supposedly unanswerable somehow makes mentioning the name of a phenomenon a satisfactory explanation. – user3503 May 6 '14 at 21:18

I think that one should think of popular Latin that was spoken in many countries by speakers who were not too firm in Latin or popular Latin. And such special cases of metathesis that r not only jumps from its place before a vowel after it but also to a place in the last part of a long word occur, because a lot of speakers could not reproduce long words correctly. That's how I would explain such curiosities that r is shifted to a remote position.

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I think that with the time the original word of Crocodylidae has become cocodrilo en Español. for lazyness or just by error. The same thing is happening with Jerusalem (Jerusalayim en hebreo). En spanish they call it Jerusalen (con N al final) In many ocasions I hear people say "Ansterdan" .. con both n .. horrible but thrue.

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Welcome to Linguistics SE. Do you happen to know of any Spanish etymological dictionaries that you could use to back up your claim? On this SE we're more interested in answers backed up by external sources or examples. Your current answer seems a bit too much like a guess. Maybe this would be better as a comment. – acattle May 9 '14 at 16:58
-1 does not answer the question, does not cite sources – robert May 11 '14 at 15:21

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