The English Language

This consists of three parts: an amusing poem that lists a lot of English words that are pronounced nothing like what their spellings would indicate; a list of words that are pronounced in two different ways, with different meanings for each; and many reasons why English is just plain crazy. All outline reasons why English is such a pain to learn.

Date Received: Mon, 22 Mar 1999
From: Meg Schell
Subject: English Language

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you, On
Hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard; a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead;
For goodness sake don't call it deed.
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)

A moth is not a moth in mother; nor both in bother, broth in brother;
And here is not a match for there,nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there's dose and rose and lose
(just look them up) and goose and choose,
And cork and work, and card and ward,
And font and front, and work and sword,
And do and go, and thwart and cart.
Come, come! I've hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive! I mastered it when I was five!
I will teach you in my verse
Words like corps, corks, horse and worse.
For this phonetic labyrinth
Yields monkey, donkey, ninth and plinth,
Wounded, rounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dies and diet, lord and word;
Earth and hearth and clerk and herd;
Evil, devil, tomb, bomb, comb;
Doll, roll; dull, bull; some and home.
Finally - for I've had enough -
Through, though, thorough, plough, cough, tough,
While hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advise is give it up.

English Pronunciation Fun

Date Received: Jan 14, 2000, supplementd by July 16, 2003
From: Meg Schell, Helen Kennedy
Subject: fun with pronunciation

English words that have the same spelling, but two different pronunciations.

Bass: At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
Close: They were too close to the door to close it.
Desert: The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
Does: The buck does funny things when the does are present.
Dove: The dove dove into the bushes.
Entrance: The entrance to a mall fails to entrance me.
Evening: I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.
Intimate: How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
Invalid: The insurance for the invalid was invalid.
Lead: He could lead if he would get the lead out.
Number: After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number.
Object: I did not object to the object.
Polish: We polish the Polish furniture.
Present: The present is a good time to present the present.
Produce: A farm can produce produce.
Refuse: The dump was so full it had to refuse refuse.
Row: There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
Sewer: They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
Sow: To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
Subject: I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
Tear: I shed a tear when I saw the tear in my clothes.
Wind: The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
Wound: The bandage was wound around the wound.

Why English is crazy

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 or French fries in France.

Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

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,
- writers write but fingers don't fing, and
- grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth?

One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices?

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?

If teachers taught, why don't preachers praught?

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

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what language do people:
- recite at a play and play a recital
- ship by truck and send cargo by ship, and
- have noses that run and feet that smell
- drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?

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,
- you fill in a form by filling it out, and
- an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers. It reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all.

That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

And finally, why doesn't "buick" rhyme with "quick"?


Single words that have opposite meanings are known as contronyms. Those listed here were sourced from a meme I saw on Facebook, or lifted directly from the Wikipedia page.
Also known as Auto-Antonyms.
See also Words that are their own opposites.
  1. Apology: A statement of contrition for an action, or a defence of one.
  2. Bolt: To secure, or to flee.
  3. Bound: Heading to a destination, or restrained from movement.
  4. Cleave: To adhere, or to separate.
  5. Clip: To attach, or to cut off.
  6. Dust: To add fine particles, or to remove them.
  7. Fast: Quick, or stuck or made stable.
  8. Left: Remained, or departed.
  9. Oversight: Accidental omission or error, or close scrutiny and control.
  10. Peer: A member of the nobility, or an equal.
  11. Peruse: To consider with attention and detail, or look over in a casual and cursory manner.
  12. Ravel: To separate (e.g. threads in a cloth) or to entangle.
  13. Sanction: To approve, or to boycott.
  14. Weather: To withstand, or to wear away.

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