Why drop the “i” in “explanation”?

I often catch myself trying to write ?explaination, phonetically spelling the word in my head. To my chagrin I get part way through and have to stop myself.

So I’m wondering why is the i dropped? I can’t think of other words ending ‑ain that take the ‑ation suffix for comparison.

Answer

Expanding on ΜετάEd’s answer, the alternation between long /e:/ and short /a/ (or reduced version thereof, schwa or a mid-high vowel) is now frequent in Modern English (and harks back to the Great Vowel Shift).

So, alongside expl[e:]n ~ expl[ə]nation, you also have:

  • ex'pl[e:]n ~ expl[æ]natory
  • ins[e:]ne ~ ins[æ]nity (insane ~ insanity)
  • in[e:]ne ~ in[æ]nity (inane ~ inanity)
  • n[e:]tion ~ n[æ]tionality (nation ~ nationality)
  • [e:]ble ~ [ə]bility (able ~ ability)

As you hunched and ΜετάEd pointed out, there is an orthographic oddity to explain, in that its /e:/ sound alternates with a lax vowel, but it is, orthographically, ai. The nearest I can come to like examples is:

  • retain ~ retention (this too is an etymological oddity, examples like contend ~ contention, intend ~ intention_, and so on, would lead one to expect retend ~ retention)
  • inveigh ~ invective (where the origin of eigh is again etymologically odd, coming from invehere)

As the parenthetic comments make clear, these are as much oddities as the case you identified.

Attribution
Source : Link , Question Author : Pureferret , Answer Author : Daniel Harbour

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