Reading time: 1,300 words, 3 to 5 minutes.
[Gerold comment: having learned English as a second language, I can confirm that English is difficult to learn as a second language. Those who learned English as a first language sometimes marvel at Asians who need to memorize thousands of ideograms, yet we forget that we need to memorize hundreds of thousands of exceptions to the rules of English. By the way, there are numerous websites that carry versions of what follows.]
“This little treatise on the lovely language we share is only for the brave. It was passed on by a linguist, original author unknown. Peruse at your leisure, English lovers, but be sure to read aloud.
“Some examples why the English language is so hard to learn:”
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’d be able to lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) 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) 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 a 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 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?
Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; nor is there apple or pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England nor were French fries invented in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads (which aren’t sweet or bread) 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 and runners run 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? Apparently not!
One index = 2 indices! Two dice = one die!
You can make amends but never just one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends, and get rid of all of them but one, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn’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 then play at a recital? Who ships by truck and sends cargo by ship? Why do we have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same thing, 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 coming on.
People, not computers, invented the English language and 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 so it goes on…
– Which witch did we talk to?
– There are two to many here too.
– The hare used hair to line the nest for her heirs.
– What watt is the light bulb?
– They rouse many rows when they work together.
– Shall we commence the comments section of this meeting?
– He had no right to write on the deed of rites, or to sit on the right, so he was served a writ.
– I bought this sail in the sale.
– I gave the pair a pear each.
– I gave a bow and climbed to the first bough but snagged my bow on a twig, my beau applauded loudly.
– If the brake fails, the car will roll and break the fence.
– It filled the whole hole
– The plain plane, planed the plain.
– The pain of the cut from the broken pane
– The month for the mouth of the moth
– I’ve seen the scene before, when we went to see the sea.
– Fly little fly, away from my fly.
– The bear was barely bare with just a tuft on top of his head as he sat bearing his cup of barley wine.
– I paid my fare to see the fair but I didn’t think the fare was fair.
– I wanted to wear my hat to where the shop was selling its wares.
– You shouldn’t live near a live wire.
– When the sink was full I wondered if the dish would sink.
– I know there was just no way you could know until now.
– The main contribution to the size of its head is its mane.
– I kept a daily diary of the dairy profits.
– The heart of the matter was that the mat was matt brown.
– In order to route for truffles, his route took him around the tree root.
– He played pool whilst I swam in the pool.
– I fished my pen out of the pen and tucked it into my pocket.
And there we have it, English at its most perplexing. Of course there is more but you need to do an English course to experience its full potency. Even English, English students have been known to throw up their arms in despair.
[Gerold again] There are numerous other examples. For instance, consider the words onion and union. Why isn’t the second word pronounced like the first? And why isn’t onion pronounced OH-nion?
Consider yourself lucky if English is your first language and please have patience for those struggling to learn it as a second language because you have no idea how difficult it is. This especially applies to teachers teaching English as a second language.
I well remember the difficulty I had learning English as a second language. In Grade 2, I asked the teacher which comes first; ‘before’ or ‘after’? The kids laughed. So did the teacher. I forgave the kids because they were just kids and didn’t know any better but I lost all respect for the ditz with tits at the front of the class. Remember that if you’re a teacher teaching English as a second language; you’re teaching one of the most difficult languages in the world.
February 23, 2013
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You’re right, English is not an easy language to learn. I learned it as a second language, too (as you well know. 🙂 It isn’t an easy language to TEACH either. I learned more about the English language, (the rules and the numerous exceptions) the year that I had taught it at a German high school (Gymnasium Schramberg) than all the years previous to that. Loved every minute of it!
Thanks for your perspective, Carola. I have no experience teaching English but based on my experience learning it I can only imagine how challenging it must be to teach it.
Excellent examples Gerold ! Well done !
Thanks, Fred. I was surprised how many examples there are. There’s tons more but I had to draw the line somewhere …