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English: The crazy language

9 March, 2010
When I started learning Spanish, I liked its simple structure, and especially that each letter has a single sound. English is more confusing. For example, it has not one but two sounds for the letter ‘g’: a hard ‘g’ as in groan and a soft ‘g’ as in germ.  The same for the ‘c’,  which can be hard (case) or soft (cease). Spanish has no slippery ‘what you hear is not what you get’ items, as happens in English with words such as freight, knee, column, segue.

Even more difficult are some Asian languages, such as Mandarin. The spelling involves constructing tiny drawings that comprise its characters. But much more difficult is the pronunciation. A a single word can have three meanings, depending on whether you say it with an upward inflection (/), a downward inflection (\) or a combination (\_/). I gave up on Mandarin because my difficulties with inflections meant that although I thought I had been addressing the instructor as honoured teacher, I had actually been referring to her as a giant rat.

A friend recently sent me the following list of inconsistencies and confusing words in English.  I feel lucky that I learned English as my first language so I’ve never had to sort out its inconsistencies later in life.

English is a Crazy Language

There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine are in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England, nor were French fries invented in France. Sweetmeats are candies but sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. Quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

Why is it that writers write, drivers drive, runners run, and caterers cater, but grocers don’t groce?

Teachers may have taught but preachers cannot have praught?

The plural of tooth is teeth, so why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth?

Why is it common to hear that someone is being uncouth, but less common to hear someone described as couth?

Why can you  have one goose and one moose, and as well two geese but not two meese?

If you can make amends,  why can’t you make a single amend?

And if you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? An odd?

More confusion:

  1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
  2. The farm was used to produce produce.
  3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
  5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  7. She thought there was no time like the present to present the present.
  8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  10. I did not object to the object.
  11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  13. They were too close to the door to close it.
  14. A buck does funny things when the does are around.
  15. A seamstress, that is, a sewer, fell down into the sewer.
  16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  17. The wind was too strong for them to wind the sail.
  18. Seeing the tear in the painting, I shed a tear.
  19. I decided to subject the subject to some tests.
  20. How can I intimate this problem to my most intimate friend?
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