The trouble with English

A viral e-mail in 2004 illustrated how weird and crazy the English language is. According the anonymous mail, “there is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, and neither apple nor pine in pineapple. And while no one knows why “hotdog” is so named, it is certain that it may not be hot and it is not a dog. English muffins were not invented in England nor French fries made 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 actually square, and guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs. And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, hammers don’t ham and barbers don’t barb? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese, yes. So, one mouse, two meese? Is cheese the plural of choose? One louse, two lice. One house, two hice? If teachers taught, why didn’t we say preachers praught? If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

“Why do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Why do people ship by truck or car and send cargo by ship? Why do we have noses that run and feet that smell? Then, why do you park on driveways and drive on parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as heck one day and be cold as heck another? When a house burns up, it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out and alarm clock goes off by going on. You get in and out of a car, yet you get on and off a bus. 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?”

One of the souvenirs I received at the 2006 Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages held at Hyatt Regency Chicago, Chicago, USA, between March 9 and 11, 2006 is a poster that contains a poem on the consistent inconsistencies in English. The author, after citing several examples related to the ones above, ends the poem as follows: “So our English, I think, you will all agree/ Is the craziest language you ever did see!” Many people would agree to his submission.