English: She is a crazy language

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I delight in the English language, admire those who use it correctly and concur that English: She is a crazy language.

Recently I came upon poet T. S. Watt, of whom I had never heard; he has written a poem exemplifying just how crazy is the English language. It is simply titled “English” and published in the Manchester Guardian — which could be Manchester, England; Manchester, Connecticut, or Manchester, North Carolina, if there is such a city.

So here it is:


I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, tough 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 and 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 word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart —
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried.
I hadn’t learned at fifty-five.

End of poem, but it so inspired me I had to try my skill in a similar endeavor.  I might title this:

English !! (or 2, or two, or to, or too)

In admiration of this gent
Who poetically has made a dent
In English, as we know the tongue,
With complications yet unsung.
So I shall add my two cents worth
And point out words like worth and girth
That surely rhyme but are not spelled
As they both should be compelled.
Then there is bow that rhymes with toe,
And bow that rhymes with bough, you know.
Suite and sweet may sound the same —
Surely someone is to blame.
You sing the scale and call it do,
but as a verb it’s do, you know.
Due sounds the same, and also dew —
This spelling and pronouncing — phew!
And we know the cow says moo
While the color of the sky is blue —
Another rhyme, the number two;
Also grew, who, through and view.
I’ve struggled decades wearing thin
Dictionaries these words are in.

OK, I’ll never be named poet laureate or win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry, but I’ve enjoyed writing this bit that may befuddle some with the craziness of the English language.

Isn’t it marvelous how we manage to communicate despite this fact — and also contend with a variety of accents and colloquialisms. Or am I taking too much for granted? We all know it is absolutely impossible to relay any message when the other person is not listening.

And if you can’t read all this crazy English, the Literacy Volunteers of Beaufort County would love to hear from you.