Speak English Why Don’t You!
Why on earth should we speak English? After all, English is such a confusing and inconsistent language. It's almost like a plot that has been hatched by the users, choosers, perusers, producers (and invariably abusers) of this frustratingly complex, illogical, irregular, unpredictable and sometimes even incongruous language, against all those who choose to learn English as other than their mother tongue.
For those supporters of the theory that the combination of English grammar, spelling, and most of all pronunciation, is a preconceived, prejudiced and punitive conspiracy against those not advantageously born into it, the poem below may either support their argument, or perhaps provide some sympathetic solace for their plight.
Our Strange Lingo
When the English tongue we speak,
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true,
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard,
Cord is different from word,
Cow is cow but low is low,
Shoe is never rhymed with foe,
Think of hose, dose, and lose,
And think of goose and yet with choose,
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some,
Since pay is rhymed with say,
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good,
Mould is not pronounced like could,
Wherefore done, but gone and lone,
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me,
Sound and letters don't agree.
- This was written by Lord Cromer, published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902 and extracts were quoted in an SSS pamphlet in the 1930 essay, "English as a World Language" by Harold Cox, Former Editor Edinburgh Review.
These problems can be summarised by three groups of horrific in-built impediments to the student of English, set out below:
- Homonyms - These are words spelt and pronounced the same way but with different meanings; such as gross, either meaning the worst imaginable antonym of nice, or 144 of whatever tickles your fancy; well, either meaning how we all felt prior to the advent of Mexican viral beer, or a hole in the ground where you can draw water to wash down your wet market; and change, as in to stop burning all those gross polluting fossil forms of energy and to adopt renewables, or a reference to those little round metallic discs we used to keep in our pockets, purses or wallets, as a pay-back for proffering various sheets of coloured paper, well before touch became synonymous with tainted and we were forced to go cashless.
- Homophones - These are words with the same sound but with different spelling and meaning; such as "I'll give two of these to you, too"; cruise, as in the now obsolete custom of travelling across the ocean on a large viral pea soup container, versus crews, as in the staff employed by the cruise ship company to ensure that all cruise participants "share and share alike"; and see ahead, as in the practice adopted by the various worldwide port authorities to look for cruise ships coming and to refuse to let them dock ("not in my back yard") thus ensuring that they remain at sea.
- Homographs - These are words with the same spelling but different sound and meaning; such as wind, as in the bagfulls of hot air emitted by our various politicians, while "towing the party line" instead of representing the interests of the voter, as compared to the irritation experienced by the people when the politicians wind us up with their wind; and then don't get too close, as in what is now defined as less than 1.5 m distance, as compared to close the door and hide behind the curtains to ensure that any visiting politicians, religious fraternisers, charity collectors and other casual door knockers think that you're out.
Now we've all heard of using a double negative to arrive at a positive, but what about a double positive to convey a negative ... Yeah right! And how about all those negative words that have no positive equivalent?
- If we take away the prefix 'in', then what is the meaning of an [in]'ert' chemical, a [in]'hibited' action, or a topsy-turvy [in]'verted' object, or an [in]'ept' person?
- Or how about a [dis]'gruntled' person, who presumably has a slipped 'dis'?
- Or a [un]'gainly' person, who's one of the lost 'un's?
Then how about when we have more than one? Wouldn't life be so much simpler if all we had to do was add an 's' to our nouns to procreate them?
We'll begin with box; the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox is oxen, not oxes.
One fowel is a goose, and two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose is never called meese.
You may find a lone mouse, or a house full of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
The plural of man is always men,
But the plural of pan is never pen.
If I speak of a foot, and you show me two feet,
And I give you a book, would a pair be a beek?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't two booths together be beeth?
If the singular's this, and the plural is these,
Should the plural of kiss be ever called kese?
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But thought we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine ... she, shis and shim!Anonymous
But before we tackle 'Why' English is so despicably and dastardly difficult and 'Why' we should continue to collectively and complicitly coerce its extensive use, here's some information of passing interest (but little, if any, benefit) taken from the Lingoda Team:
- "Go!" is the shortest grammatically correct English sentence.
- There are many ways to spell the 'ee' sound in English, such as, "He believed Caesar should see people seizing the seas."
- The original name for 'butterfly' was 'flutterby'.
- The letter 'e' occupies 11% of the English language.
- 90% of English text comprises only 1000 words.
- The most common English adjective is 'good', and most common noun is 'time' (now perhaps you'll appreciate why so many of the lady workers in various red light districts offer their clientele a 'good time').
So, as to why English is so inconceivably inconsistent and virulently variable, let's look at its history down through the ages.
In times when much of Britain was under the far flung influence of Rome, the far-from-united inhabitants spoke a form of Celtish, which survives in Scotland and Ireland as Gaelic and in Wales as Welch. After the Italians retreated for warmer Mediterranean climes, there was an invasion of Germanic tribes from the east, across the North Sea. These Jutes, Angles and Saxons brought with them the roots of what we now call Old English.
They drove the Celts northwards and westwards and settled mostly throughout what is now called England (taken after 'Englaland' the home of the Angles and their language, 'Englisc').
Some 600 years later, the Normans came from Northern France, spearheaded by William the Conqueror and his Harold's-eye-seeking bowmen. They brought with them the French language of the day, which was subsequently adopted by the ruling and business classes, before merging again into a melee of Middle English, as spoken by Chaucer in the late 14th century (try reading the Canterbury Tales in its original form and then tell me that today's English is indecipherable).
English was modified yet again, during the Early Modern English period, from the 16th to 19th centuries, as the empire building Brits interacted with (or rather controlled, dominated and subjugated) people from around the world, absorbing selected words from these exotic and distant lands into their own language, albeit mostly in a somewhat distorted fashion. Then came the Late Modern English home stretch, during which the Industrial Revolution occurred and a whole host of new words were invented in parallel with technology.
After such a checkered history and evolution, is it surprising then to discover that modern day English is anything but consistent in its grammar, spelling and pronunciation?
Then finally, why should we need to continue to use such a dastardly difficult language? Well, before you throw in the towel, here are some rubbery facts to sway you in favour of having at least a working knowledge of one of the various forms of English used globally.
- It appears that an estimated one third of the world's population now uses English, which romps home either in second place to Mandarin Chinese, or in third place after Spanish, depending upon which bookmaker you've placed your bet with and whether or not the steward's objections have been upheld.
- English is particularly influential in cinema, television, pop music, trade and the internet.
- Longstanding international agreements have resulted in English being the official language for all maritime and aeronautical communications.
- Over 80% of the information stored on computers worldwide is in English.
- English is the official language of 67 countries.
In conclusion, for those of you out there who are still students of the English language (ie this post hasn't entirely driven you to distraction and hence to Mandarin, Spanish or ultimately Latin), be it as spoken in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, India, and the Caribbean, not to mention UK and the USA, you have my deepest sympathies. Please take some solace in the undisputed fact that you are not alone in your frustration, annoyance and exasperation, and that there have been, and will continue to be, many others sharing the same boat as you.
So sit tight, buckle up, and suck it up! Neither Rome nor the English language was built, nor indeed learned, in a day.
When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:
The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.
Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.
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