The story turns out to be that the Italian word colonello, from Latin columnellus, the leader of a (military) column, got borrowed into French twice. The first time, it became coronel in French, possibly on the notion that it was from Latin corona 'crown' rather than columna.
The form coronel spread to English and Spanish before being replaced in French itself by a second borrowing from Italian, this time more correctly as colonel. The spelling, but not the pronunciation, of this second form then entered English, leaving us with l in the spelling and r in the pronunciation.
Pronunciation of lieutenant is generally split between the forms /lɛfˈtɛnənt/ (lef-TEN-ənt) and /l(j)uːˈtɛnənt/ ( listen) (loo-TEN-ənt), with the former generally associated with the United Kingdom, Ireland and Commonwealth countries, and the latter generally associated with the United States. The earlier history of the pronunciation is unclear; Middle English spellings suggest that the /l(j)uː-/ and /lɛf-/ pronunciations existed even then. The rare Old French variant spelling luef for Modern French lieu ('place') supports the suggestion that a final [w] of the Old French word was in certain environments perceived as an [f].
In Royal Naval tradition — and other English-speaking navies outside the United States — the intermediate pronunciation /ləˈtɛnənt/ was preserved. This is not recognized as current by the OED, however, and by 1954 the Royal Canadian Navy, at least, regarded it as "obsolescent" even while regarding "the army's 'LEF-tenant'" to be "a corruption of the worst sort".
· 9 years ago