Just one of those surprising etymologies that I can’t resist sharing:

in·kling (ĭng’klĭng)
[Probably alteration of Middle English (a) ningkiling, (a) hint, suggestion, possibly alteration of nikking, from nikken, to mark a text for correction, from nik, notch, tally, perhaps from variant of Old French niche, niche; see NICHE.]

And if you’re curious about niche:

[French, from Old French, from nichier, to nest (from Vulgar Latin *nīdicāre, from Latin nīdus, nest; see sed– in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) or from Old Italian nicchio, seashell (perhaps from Latin mītulus, mussel).]

And while I’m at it, I might as well quote the amusing Usage Note:

Niche was borrowed from French in the 1600s and Anglicized shortly thereafter. Many French borrowings have troublesome pronunciations, because most English speakers can’t speak French very well, if at all. Niche presents an interesting variation of this pattern. It was quickly converted into a comfortable English-sounding word, pronounced (nĭch) and rhyming with itch. But in the 1900s, people familiar with French thought that a word that looked French should sound French, and so the Francophone pronunciation (nēsh), rhyming with quiche, was revived. Some Americans consider this pronunciation to be an affectation; however, it is standard in Britain and is included in most American dictionaries. The hybrid pronunciation (nēch), which takes something from each version to rhyme with leech, is less favored, perhaps because it makes one look as though one doesn’t know what language one is speaking. In our 2005 survey, 69 percent of the Usage Panel found it unacceptable.

As I have said elsewhere, I use the comfortable English-sounding rhymes-with-itch pronunciation, but to each their own.


  1. But you don’t pronounce quiche to rhyme with witch? 😉

  2. So it resulted from the same sort of n-confusion that gave us apron from napron, and nickname from ekename.

  3. quiche to rhyme with witch

    Google informs that someone has already come up with the idea of naming their band Avant Garde and Quiche, as this immediately suggests.

  4. And I have always used the fourth option, “nish” rhyming with fish. Except when reading On Beyond Zebra, where it is spelled Nitch in any case.

  5. Parallel with the pseudo-Gallicization of niche is the /i/ vowel in chamomile, which is increasingly pronounced “meal,” and is sometimes even stressed. It looks too French to say the English way.

  6. Sky Onosson says

    Interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the rhymes-with-itch version in real life, and it would have never occurred to me to attempt to pronounce it that way.

  7. I have never heard chamomile pronounced any way other than CAM-o-meal and am curious about about a pronunciation that gives the i a different value.

  8. marie-lucie says

    la niche

    Here in Halifax there is a restaurant called Niche. I have never been there and have not tried to find out how people pronounce it. Until a year or two ago the name was spelled Nîche, which would have been even more confusing.

    For me the word has two meanings: probably the most common one is ‘doghouse’, the little hut where a dog sleeps outside a house. Architecturally it refers to a hollow space in a wall, often at the outside corner of a house, meant for a small statue of a saint to be placed there so it can be viewed from both sides. It can also be in an inside wall, often in a bathroom in order to make a little shelf for soap or other small objects. In any case une niche seems to always suggests a rather cosy little space.

    There is a derivative la nichée, literally ‘nestful’, a collective noun referring to the living contents of a bird’s nest – all the little birds born from the eggs at the same time.

  9. marie-lucie says

    chamomile pronounced any way other than CAM-o-meal

    That’s CAM-o-mile.

    The French word is camomille, ending like famille not like ville.

  10. I like this “because most English speakers can’t speak French very well” as if, first, speaking a language means knowing how to pronounce a random set of words and, second, English spelling is such a transparent thing that people cannot be troubled with remembering an unusual pronunciation (or spelling, if you’ve learnt a word by ear). Anyways, because AHD authors are fully aware of these fundamental principles of linguistics, I must conclude that having fun is now a part of lexicographer’s job.

  11. I presume the spelling chamomile is a classicizing one, reflecting the ultimate origin of the word in χαμαίμηλον ‘earth-apple’ > LLat camomilla > Fr camomille. The OED1 (1888) said the cha- spelling is pharmacological, the ca- spelling “literary and popular”. The ODO calls cha- typically AmE; the AHD5 gives cha- first and ca- after. The FLEECE vowel in the last syllable is also common in AmE, but the PRICE vowel, typical of BrE, is also found.

  12. JC: My late grandfather enjoyed drinking a cup of χαμαίμηλον at night, before turning in, the rest of us laughed at the archaic type of the word he used, we all said χαμομήλι instead like everyone else. And anyway who cared about χαμομήλι, that’s just an old people’s beverage, right? Its flowers smell really nice in the spring, though.

  13. I use both pronunciations of “niche”. Somehow “nitch” seems more appropriate as a substantive, e.g. “she’s found her niche”, and “neesh” as an attributive “he’s just a niche player in the market”. I have no idea whether I actually do this consistently.

  14. I’m surprised no one has yet brought up Tolkien, CS Lewis and their pals.

  15. David Marjanović says

    χαμαίμηλον ‘earth-apple’

    Huh. Does this refer to the vague resemblance to the blossoms of apple trees (and many other plants)? Or is it a folk etymology of some “Minoan”/”Pelasgian” loan…?

  16. At an Inklings meeting, when Tolkien was reading from his developing Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis is said to have remarked: “Not bloody elves again….”

  17. Interestingly, French name of the plant Camomille romaine lost the first word when travelling to Slavic languages. Or maybe it was some of the French predecessors from which Slavs borrowed the name, but anyways it is ромашка in Russian now.

  18. Why isn’t he supposed to sing “семь ромашка”?

  19. So it’s not a baby squid?

  20. No idea. Maybe rhythm is better “TA-ta-ta-ta-TA-ta-ta-ta-TA-ta-ta-ta-TA” ending on a stressed beat. Or maybe little bear is just bossing little hedgehog around.

  21. @Paul: No, it was H. V. V. (“Hugo”) Dyson.

  22. Rodger: thanks. I appreciate the correction. These things stick in the mind from some original misquote.

  23. AJP "Hugo" Crown says

    Dyson lived in the same road as Tolkien. W. H. Auden, an admirer of Tolkien, described his Sandfield Road house by reportedly stating “He lives in a hideous house, I can’t tell you how awful it is — with hideous pictures on the walls.”

  24. Tolkien was deeply offended by the publication of this remark, which he saw as a slur on his wife.

  25. And, if it wasn’t otherwise obvious, Tolkien was reading from his work on The Silmarillion when Dyson objected, not The Lord of the Rings.

  26. And he said “fucking”, not “bloody”.

  27. χαμαίμηλον ‘earth-apple’

    Huh. Does this refer to the vague resemblance to the blossoms of apple trees (and many other plants)? Or is it a folk etymology of some “Minoan”/”Pelasgian” loan…?

    Checking Chantraine, Frisk, and Beekes, only Chantraine covers the word s.v. 1 μῆλον, as one of the compounds with μῆλον “apple” as second member. He doesn’t note any variants that would speak for χαμαίμηλον being a folk etymology. Beekes, who normally pounces on every chance to declare something Pre-Greek, doesn’t cover the word, neither under μῆλον, nor under χαμαί.

  28. David, don’t forget the Greeks didn’t have potatoes, so they had to find something else to call “earth-apple” instead.

  29. David,

    “Huh. Does this refer to the vague resemblance to the blossoms of apple trees”

    Doubt it. The flowers are humped up like a strawberry and do resemble and apple. The word in Spanish is “manzanita” so someone else saw the same similarity. Actually the same holds for the genus of bushes named “manzanita”. They bear small red berries.

  30. “The word in Spanish is “manzanita”…

    You’re very close. It’s manzanilla and my mother makes tea from it all the time (there’s some growing wild in the neighborhood).

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