English has a set of words with "ch", coming — more or less directly — from the Greek language. They all have a /k/ sound.

  • character
  • charisma
  • psychology
  • choreography
  • archive

Just to name a few. All these words are spelled with "ch" — no matter the pronunciation.

Then, there's autarchy. Pronounced with /k/, spelled with "ch"... and "k".


It might not be the only one, but I'm wondering why there's an odd one out in the first place?

Side note: I was about posting this question at https://english.stackexchange.com but then I realised that the same exception applies to my native language (German) as well. Autark is spelled with "k" (there's no "ch" spelling in German for this word); and all the other words I mentioned above are spelled with "ch". Psychologie and Archiv, however, are not even pronouned with an /k/-sound whatsoever.

  • How about leukaemia for a counterexample? I see it also comes from German. Jun 22, 2017 at 13:25
  • @ColonelPanic So, the answer is because it came from German while the other terms came via French into English. That means the question should rather be about the oddness in German.
    – Em1
    Jun 22, 2017 at 14:06
  • @ColonelPanic: "Leukemia" is not a counterexample; its "k" corresponds to the kappa in Greek "λευκός" (leukos). The OP is asking about Greek words containing chi... except in the case of "autarky", which also comes from a kappa (Greek "αὐτάρκεια"). I'll post an answer. :) Jun 22, 2017 at 18:13
  • As a reverse counterexample, I have often heard China pronounced "ki:na" by Germans.
    – Mr Lister
    Jun 23, 2017 at 6:50

2 Answers 2


The general rule is that only Greek chi (χ) turns into English CH; Greek kappa (κ) turns into English K, or sometimes English C (if it's in a context where the pronunciation of C would be unambiguous). So for example:

  • χαρακτήρ -> character
  • γλαύκωμα -> glaucoma
  • αὐτάρκεια -> autarky
  • μόναρχος -> monarch
  • αὐταρχία -> autarchy

In the former case, αὐτάρκεια is derived from αὐτός + αρκετός "sufficiency". (See Strong's concordance here.)

In the latter case, αὐταρχία is derived from αὐτός + ἀρχός "leader". (See Strong's concordance here.)

English Wiktionary actually covers this very well: autarchy, autarky.

On "leukemia": Interestingly, the modern Greek word for "leukemia" is λευχαιμία, but that's a borrowing from medical language back into Greek; the original medical term came from Ancient Greek λευκός + αἷμα. And, this being back in the days when English was classier, the German-medical "Leukämie" was originally borrowed into English as "leucaemia" — any schoolboy would have known that "-cae-" was pronounced like a a hard C followed by a long E. But spelling reform gave us "leucemia" and the decline of Greek gave us finally "leukemia". Google Ngram viewer.

  • 2
    Greek "κ" can correspond to English "c" even when it is pronounced as /s/ instead of as /k/. It's based on Latin conventions for the transcription of Greek. The change of κ > χ in λευχαιμία is not unexpected as far as I know; the word "αἷμα" has a rough breathing, which can cause this kind of change to a preceding voiceless consonant in compound words. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rough_breathing#Inside_a_word Jun 22, 2017 at 18:55
  • 3
    That said, this aspiratory change doesn't occur in certain modern medical terms like "lip(a)emia", but I'm not really sure what basis, if any, there is to using it or not using it. It seems a bit random. (In fact, I was considering asking a question about it!) I wouldn't be so sure that ""leucaemia" was pronounced with /k/--compare the similar "septic(a)emia" which as far as I know is only pronounced with /s/. Jun 22, 2017 at 18:57
  • The spelling "leukaemia" is another possibility that seems pretty common in contemporary British writing. Jun 22, 2017 at 19:03
  • 1
    @ewawe is right here – though the word doesn’t exist in Ancient Greek, the combination of λευκ́ος + αἷμα would be expected to yield λευχαιμ(ία). But the medical suffix -(a)emia is distinct from Ancient Greek αἷμα – it’s one of those cases where new words are formed from a genericised suffix based on AGr, but not as it would be formed in AGr (cf. septicaemia, chloridaemia, lipaemia, etc., which would have been *septichaemia, *chlorithaemia and *liphaemia if formed according to AGr rules). May 9, 2020 at 13:20

Actually, “autarky” and “autarchy” are two different words. The former means “self-sufficiency” and comes from the Greek arkein “to suffice”. The latter means “absolute rule” and comes from Greek arkhē “rule”. They are pronounced the same in English, but not in Greek.

  • 4
    Curiously, all the references in the Oxford English Dictionary for the “self-sufficiency” word from 1617 to 1931 spell it (unetymologically) with -chy or -chie. “Autarky” with -k- does not show up until 1939, when it seems to have been reborrowed from German.
    – fdb
    Jun 22, 2017 at 10:47

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