The English Language

The English Language

© David Burton 2022

The English Language

     This article is pretty much a repeat of an article sent to me by a friend with whom I grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts many years ago and who has since passed away. I do not know from whom or from where he got the original material.

     You think English is easy??? Consider the following.

  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. 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. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  19. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  20. 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; 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? 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 preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Why is it that we can say that actors recite at a play and musicians play at a recital? While we ship by truck, we send cargo by ship. We have noses that can run and feet that can 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.

     English was invented by people, not computers, 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.

     By the way - Why doesn't Buick rhyme with quick?

     You lovers of the English language will enjoy this.

     In the English language, there is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is UP.

     It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

     At a meeting, why does a topic come UP?

     Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

     We call UP our friends.

     And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen.

     We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

     At other times the little word has real special meaning.

     People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

     To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

     A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

     We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

     We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

     To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary.

     In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

     If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.

     It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

     When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP.

     When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP.

     When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.

     When it doesn't rain for a while, things dry UP.

     One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP. Now my time is UP, so it’s time to shut UP and let you ponder the intricacies and nuances of this glorious language that we call English!

     Now it's UP to you to decide on what you want to do with this article about the English language.

     Today, English is the most widely taught foreign language in the world – and a very difficult one to comprehend. It has been the world’s universal language for many years now. Much of the world’s business is conducted in English and international treaties make it the official language for all maritime and aeronautical communications.
     However, as we have seen, even though the language is widely used, it’s not easy to learn. There are many confusing oddities and inconsistent spellings that conspire to make English difficult to learn and easy to misunderstand.
     Contributing to the confusion are numerous homonyms, homophones and homographs.
     Homonyms are words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same, but have different meanings. Native speakers usually know what is meant based on the context, but imagine the confusion of someone trying to learn the language for the first time! Just two examples of the many homonyms in the English language are: A tire is the round rubber thing on a car or what happens to you if you stay awake too long and a bat can be a flying mammal or what you use to hit a baseball.
     Homophones are words that have the same sound as another word but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Here are just two examples: two/to/too - I’ll give two of these to you, too. And they’re/there/their - They’re in there studying for their test.
     Homographs are words that have the same spelling but a different sound and a different meaning. Two example of homographs are: Lead meaning to go in front of or it’s a heavy metal used in car batteries. Wind is a gust of air or it’s what you do to an old clock.
     Then there is the issue of spelling rules. English spelling “rules” seem more like suggestions than rules. Some words have the same sounds but use different letter combinations to make those sounds. Other words use the same letter combinations, but sound completely different. There are silent letters that are written but not pronounced, and there are lists of exceptions to the various rules. For example, the letters “ough” can sound like “uff” as in tough, like “oh” as in though, or like “ot” as in thought. They can also sound like “ow” as in bough or “off” as in cough.
     Even a simple task like making a noun plural has its challenges in English. Typically, you add an “s” or perhaps and “es” to the end of the word to make it plural as in book/books and box/boxes. Then there are slightly odder words where you have to replace the last letter (y) with an “ies” as in lady/ladies and baby/babies.
     As we all know too well, there’s no shortage of examples of odd and curious inconsistencies with English.[1]

  1. A Humorous Look at How The English Language Is So Confusing, Ron Bergeron,, 19 February 2018.

  6 January 2022 {Article 509; Suggestions?_65}    
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