They are identical in all but their first letter, but they don't rhyme at all. Is it just sound shifts over time, or some other reason?

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    I imagine it has to do with laugh being a verb, and the dominant form of that word, and daughter only being used in that form. They went through separate changes for being 1 or 2 syllable words. Dec 3, 2015 at 20:19
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    Once you start asking why English is the way it is, you are going down a very deep rabbit hole. The short answer is "Because English is a crazy hodgepodge of different languages, and we took words and spelling and pronunciation from many other languages. And then sometimes we tried to 'fix' English spelling and pronunciation, and half the time we just messed them up more."
    – stangdon
    Dec 3, 2015 at 20:43
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    @stangdon Reminds me of my favorite Booker T. Washington quote "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." And then we mangle it beyond recognition so we don't get caught ;)
    – ColleenV
    Dec 3, 2015 at 21:01
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    This topic has also been discussed on the English Language and Usage SE; you might be interested in looking at the following questions: Different ways to pronounce “augh”, Why did /x/ change to /f/ in English?
    – sumelic
    Dec 3, 2015 at 21:12
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    @ColleenV: Love it! So it's not just quirks of history / accidents of fate that make "armchair etymologising" so difficult. Our illustrious forebears were actually going out of their way to cover their tracks and conceal the evidence! Dec 3, 2015 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


Yep. You can blame it on the Great Vowel Shift, and all the smaller ones before it (but not after), plus some of the consonants altering themselves to fit a passing craze from time to time.

Both words are Germanic, their etymology going back to Middle English to Old English, with no French or Latin influence; it would be safe to assume that the -gh- once stood for the hard "h" (like the last sound in the German name Heinrich) that is now gone from the English language. So laughter and draught went one way, and daughter and Charles Laughton the other. That's life, as Garibaldi used to say.

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    We have words coming in from so many places, I often wonder how anybody manages to read this crazy language at all. Thank you for your answer. I had forgotten about proper names as a source of comparison. That was helpful to me. And now that I think about, it we have Tochter in German, where it seems to make sense to soften that ch en route to English. Dec 3, 2015 at 20:34
  • @MichaelTuchman: You have so many intriguing things in German it positively makes one dizzy. Being a part-time Wagnerite, I often have a hard time making sense of this or that phraseological twist in the guy's libretti, and there's Austrian pronunciation vs Normal pronunciation vs Opera pronunciation, and the "ch" comes across as the English "ch" in "cheese" sometimes, and it took me ten years and some help from native Germans to figure out what "Zwei Märchenaugen" meant because the tenor was Austrian and pronounced the "ch" as if it were the English "ch" in cheese, oh my goodness ...
    – Ricky
    Dec 3, 2015 at 20:42
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    One might expect similar-looking words to have similar sounds. It may be difficult to make a trough through a tough bough, though.
    – supercat
    Dec 4, 2015 at 0:35

There are many, many cases in English where the same letter or combination of letters is pronounced differently in different words. This is most definitely not the only example.

Consider the "c" in "car" versus "race". Or the "g" in "goat" versus "gentle". Or the "o" in "go" versus "do".

  • Your first comparison is not really relevant. In race, it's the e after the c that modifies the pronunciation. A more relevant comparison would be race vs pace or car vs par, and both of those examples use the same pronunciation. Go vs do is an excellent example, however.
    – Dan
    Dec 3, 2015 at 23:47
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    This doesn't say anything about the specific example the OP asked about.
    – sumelic
    Dec 4, 2015 at 1:43

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