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What are the historical, orthographical and etymological reasons for this? I checked Wiktionary says it is from Middle High German hērschen with one r.

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The verb herrschen is derived from the noun der Herr (mister, master, lord). Der Herr was the leading person of a group. Among christians der Herr is even used as a synonym for god (very similar to the English lord).

The verb herrschen means to govern, to rule, to dominate (to dominate is derived from latin dominus = German Herr = English lord)

And it is true. In Middle High German (MHG) the verb had only one R and a long E:

hērschen

But this is the MHG version of Herr:

hēr

So both words was written similar at same epochs.

In German the number of written consonants at the end of a syllable indicate the length of the preceding vowel. Two or more consonants indicate a short vowel, and a double consonant counts as two consonants. Only one consonant or no consonant at all indicates a longe vowel. (There are exceptions, but this rule is true for the vast majority of German words)

So, when the former long vowel E becomes short over the centuries, this change of pronunciation induces a change in spelling: the number of written consonants after that vowel needs to be increased, and since there is only one spoken consonant it has to be written twice.

  • In other words, the orthographical reason is that it's pronounced this way. The historical rason is a sound change that occurs in some words and doesn't in others. Here it says that long vowels becoming short "especially happens" before /ht/ and /r/+consonant, which, funnily enough, is fulfilled by hērschen, but not by hēr. (Although of course the word often behaves like a consonant.) – sgf Apr 16 at 9:46

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