Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Language of Confusion: Receipt

Just over a year ago, I did a post on words with -ceive and –ception in them, but I didn’t get into the niggle of the –ceit words and why that p is in receipt when the other words are just deceit and conceit. Today that ends.

The letter p drives me nuts. It’s in way too many words where it’s just there, taking up space. Some of these words evolved from Greek, where they have the letter psi, so maybeit’s okay in psychology. But come on. It’s not even necessary in receipt. Look at deceit. No p there. Is “receit” really that terrible to write?

Receipt showed up in the late fourteenth century. Back then, it specifically referred to the ingredients in the medicines of the day. Which from what I’ve heard all are something like “blood-letting” and “hope for the best.” Anyway, receipt came from the Old Frenchreceite, which basically meant the same thing. It can be traced further back as the Old French recete and the classical Latinrecepta, which means received. Three centuries after it first showed up in English, the modern definition became attached to it.

So why’s it have the p? That’s less clear, but it’s worth noting that reception has a p in it, albeit one that’s actually pronounced. We should also remember the word recipe. Not only is it another offshoot of receive, it showed up about the same time receipt took on its new meaning. And it had the similar definition of “medical prescription”. With recipe as a sibling, maybe the p just snuck in when people wrote receipt.

TL;DR: Because English is a confusing language.

Dr. Rebecca R. Harrison’s page on classical Latinat Truman State University.


  1. It never occurred to me that the p shouldn't be there. I never really noticed it.

    I remember that Story of English explanation of how they tried to codify spelling at one time when I see things like this. (Keeping a p in when it came from the Greek.) Of course, they picked the more complicated method.

  2. In one of the Little House books, Ma writes her "receipts" for rolls and soup and whatnot. I thought that was how you spell "recipe" for years.

    1. Hey, it makes just as much sense for recipe as receipt. We can say the t is silent instead of the p.

  3. At least in the original root Latin, the p seems to have a place in recepta.


Please validate me.