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Oxford dictionary says the following about the etymology of rocket:

Early 17th century from French roquette, from Italian rocchetto, diminutive of rocca ‘distaff (for spinning)’, with reference to its cylindrical shape.

Wiktionary explains the etymology of the German counterpart, Rakete, in a very similar way:

From the Italian rocchetta, diminutive of rocca (“distaff”). Confer the Icelandic raketta (“a skyrocket, a rocket”).

Duden's explanation of the etymology of Rakete isn't much different:

älter: Rackette, Rogete < italienisch rocchetta, eigentlich Verkleinerungsform von: rocca = Spinnrocken, nach der einem Spinnrocken ähnlichen zylindrischen Form

We see here an old German version with o, namely Rogete, so the Germans apparently changed o to a themselves rather than borrowed the word from a language in which the word was already spelled with a.

I am curious as to why the Germans changed o to a and were thus less respectful to the original than the English speakers were.

I noticed that the vowel under consideration is stressed in rocket, but unstressed in Rakete, which led me to think that it might have been natural to Germans to pronounce the unstressed ro as ra and then change the spelling accordingly, but later I found some German words of foreign origin that start with an unstressed ro, e.g., Rogate and Rokambol. Rogate is very close to Rogete in terms of spelling and prononciation, but remained with o, whilst Rogete didn't.

So why do Germans spell and pronounce Rakete with a?

  • 2
    Many German dialects make no sharp distinctions between o and a. – Janka Nov 27 '19 at 19:19
  • 6
    I am afraid, as soon as a foreign word has fully entered the German (or any other) language, all "respect" to its original spelling, pronunciatioan, or even meaning is lost – Hagen von Eitzen Nov 27 '19 at 19:33
  • 6
    It's possibly relevant that it's something like "raket-" with an "a" also in all the scandinavian and slavic languages, so it's not specific to German but to the whole region of central/northern/eastern Europe. – Peteris Nov 28 '19 at 13:27
  • Diese Etymologie wurde mit minimalen Anpassungen wohl einfach kopiert; Ein unverzeihlicher Fehler. – vectory Nov 29 '19 at 15:39
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DWDS says

Der dt. Ausdruck erscheint bald mit Vokalwechsel zu a (vielleicht nach der obital. Nebenform oder in Anlehnung an lautähnliches frühnhd. Ragget(t)en ‘Schlagnetz, Schläger beim Ballspiel’, ital. racchetta, mfrz. frz. raquette, dieses nach arab. rāḥa ‘Handfläche’) in den Formen Racket(t)lein (2. Hälfte 16. Jh.), Rachetlin, danach Raget, Raggete, Raquete, Rackete.

In short:
In the beginning it was written with an o, but there was an early shift to a, because:

  • It derived from the Upper Italian variant of rocchetta: racchetta

    or

  • It was spellt according to the Early New High German similar sounding word Ragget(t)en

|improve this answer|||||
  • Objekte zylindrisch-konischer Form gibt es unendlich viele, so dass jede ähnliche Wortform rein zufällig sein könnte. Norditalienisch, das sowieso deutsche Einflüsse zeigt, als Ursprung anzunehmen ist daher schwierig. Mein erster Gedanke beim Titel der Frage: "rock"; Bei ballistisch verhält es sich doch wohl ähnlich, aber niemand weiß, woher "Ball" gekommen sein soll. Zweiter gedanke: PIE *Hregs- etc, cf rex, recht, aufrecht, vgl *ragen, herausragen. – vectory Nov 29 '19 at 15:47

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