A kernel of truth

How did whoever invented the word Colonel get people to believe that it sounds like Kernel?

It was either a colossal mistake that no one bothered to fix or, as I presume, it was the greatest practical joke that’s ever been played on a language.

How else could we rationalize the Colonel/Kernel situation? I’d like to hear some linguist try and tell me tacking a ‘nel’ on the end of Colo and Ker makes them phonetically the same and still keep a straight face. I’ll be convinced when funnel and phenomenal are homonyms.

The Colonel question has plagued me since I could read. It breaks every rule in the book – hooked on phonics, baby – and no one, but me, has ever seemed to care. And for as much as I’ve thought about it, I’ve never looked for the answer. Why not? This is a case where it’s a lot more fun to dream up one’s own conclusions.



First: If I thought the explanation behind Colonel sounding like Kernel would crack the case on some near-ancient mystery, then sure, I’d scour the earth, er, Wikipedia, for it. But I figure if it were some goof, people infinitely smarter than me would’ve already fixed it. Second: If knowing why Colonel sounded like Kernel was worth a sailor’s cold sore, I would have cleared it up by now.

It’s one of those trivial mysteries that’s better left unsolved. Better left to our imaginations, where we can draw our own conclusions rather than learn what’s probably a simple, boring answer anyway. So trivial, that it won’t matter what kind of BS answer I give to spice up why two words that shouldn’t produce the same utterance in a million years do.

And I say it was literate people messing with us from way back when, when most people couldn’t read and didn’t know the difference.

“Hey serfs, see these two configurations made up of completely different symbols?”

“Yeah.”

“They sound the same.”

“You’re the boss.”

The plan worked, and ever since we’ve referred to some of our military leaders as the failures left at the bottom of a Jiffy Pop pan.

This is my last column for The Evening Sun. That is unless I pull a Brett Favre in a couple months, deciding it’s been long enough since I last made an ass of myself. But there will be no tearful press conferences here, and there won’t be any fans standing outside our offices eating Bratwurst and holding signs that say: “McGuire Forever.”

If anything, my three fans are somewhere eating Bratwurst in the dark, wondering what the hell I was ever talking about.

Hopefully, though, I helped people see things differently, and understand a little better what otherwise doesn’t make any sense and never will – like the word Colonel, high school reunions, being alone on Valentine’s Day, Eliot Spitzer’s malt liquor tax, Eliot Spitzer, moving, scratch-off lottery tickets and abandoned shopping carts.

Hopefully this column has helped you laugh at some of what’s stupid, ugly, boring and worthless about our world, rather than get bogged down by it. Hopefully it’s helped us all remember that most of our world, as weird as it might be, is still remarkable, beautiful, interesting and priceless.

Thank you so much. It’s been a blast.

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