Sunday, July 3, 2016

The English Language

The English language (or at least the American branch of the language) is often confusing even to those who were born here.  I can't imagine learning it as a second language.  Where other languages seem to have set rules, English has set rules that are filled with exceptions and sometimes even those exceptions have exceptions.

A good example is the rule 'i before e' (the spelling rule) except after c' (exception to rule) 'or when sounded as a, as in weigh' (exception to the exception).

We'll begin with a box and the plural is boxes, but the plural of ox became oxen, not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese, yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice, yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men, why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

If I spoke of my foot and show you my feet, and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth, why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that and three would be those, yet hat in the plural would never be hose. And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren, but though we say mother, we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him, but imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim.

Some reasons to be grateful if you grew up speaking English rather than learning it as a second (or even third) language:

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)       Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8)       At the army base 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)     The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15)     A seamstress and a sewer fell down into the sewer line.
16)     To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17)     The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18)     After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number.
19)     Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20)     I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21)     How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
22)     I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.

Let's face it – English is a crazy language.  There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.  English muffins weren't invented in England.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.  And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?

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 or an end?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?  Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?  Have noses that run and feet that smell?  How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

If dad is pop, how's come mom isn't mop?

Are you totally confused yet?  If not, then check out my blog for next week where I continue with the eccentricities of the English language.


Anonymous said...

I love your take on English. It really is a crazy language.

Hywela Lyn said...

What a fascinating post - and it gets worse if, like me, you're a UK author published in the U.S. As I once said to my editor 'we're divided by a common language' LOL! For instance, we put petrol in our cars, not gas, we put jam on our bread, not jelly, which we have as a desert usually with fruit or in a trifle, we put luggage in the boot of a car, not the trunk. Color is spelt 'colour' and there are numerous other differences between British English and American English.

As you say, it must be incredibly difficult to learn if English is not one's first language!

Samantha Gentry said...

kaydenclaremont: It's a totally weird language, especially here in America where there are so many foreign origin words that have been incorporated into our everyday use and are now considered part of our English. Glad you enjoyed the blog.

Thanks for your comment.

Samantha Gentry said...

Hywela: I've long been fascinated with the differences in British English and American English. In addition to what you mentioned, there's fish & chips where your chips are our French fries. Our chips are your crisps. And then there's your biscuit which is our cracker and your sweet biscuit is our cookie. We take the elevator and you take the lift. We put our cars in a parking lot while yours go into a car park. We have turn outs along the highways where you have lay bys. As you said, our car truck in your boot. And our car hood is your bonnet. And our windshield is your windscreen. We wear suspenders and you wear braces. And your first floor and the ground floor of a building are not the same thing. Here, the first floor and the ground floor are the same thing. But I think my favorite is our hardware store (the place that sells hammers, nails, screw drivers, etc.) is your iron monger. The term iron monger sounds like it's something handed down from the middle ages with blacksmiths and iron workers.

And this doesn't include Australian or New Zealand or South Africa English.

Thanks for your comment.