I’m a huge fan of the English language and I like to try to learn other languages too. Currently (in fact for the last several years) I’ve been concentrating on learning Polish and Cantonese. Well, you have to set yourself a challenge. I have good reason to learn both those languages, so it’s not purely a linguistic form of self-flagellation.
Anyway, when I’m struggling with foreign languages I often remind myself how lucky I am that English is my first language. I don’t know who wrote this piece, but it does help to perfectly sum up why all native English speakers should thank their lucky stars:
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.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, 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, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? 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 didn’t preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?
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 at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another.
Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or piccable? And where are all those people who are spring chickens or who would actually hurt a fly?
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 clock goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t 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 why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.
And if that wasn’t enough to bend your brain, there’s also these kind of things:
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 ) 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 ) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
14 ) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
15 ) To help with planting plants, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
16 ) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
17 ) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
18 ) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19 ) 1 had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20 ) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?