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"Why Would Anybody Learn
Such A Difficult And Confusing Language As English?"

 

OUR CRAZY LANGUAGE...

Did I say English is tough to learn?

No long ago, a friend of mine sent an email with a little essay attached. I know that my friend did not produce it, because I've been informed that it actually originates from Richard Lederer, who published it as part of his introduction to "Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Language" (Pocket Books, 1989). (You can get his book from Amazon.com by clicking here).

I am very grateful to Mr Michael Poppers of Elizabth, New Jersey, who sent me an email with the pertinent information. Thanks again, Michael...

With kind permission from Simone, Richard's wife, I am continuing to reproduce it here because I think it's a very clever example of just how the quirks of the language can confuse us all... ;-))

"English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet. One in every seven human beings around the globe can speak English. And more than half of the world's books and three-quarters of international mail are written in this crazy tongue.

Of all languages, English has the largest vocabulary - perhaps as many as two million words - and of course it has one of the noblest bodies of literature.

However, let's face it! English is a crazy language!

For example, there is no egg in eggplant, - and will you find neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.

Hamburgers are not made from ham, English muffins were not invented in England, and French Fries were not invented in France.

Sweetmeats are confectionery, while sweetbreads which are not sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But when we explore it's paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, Public Bathrooms have no baths, and a guinea pig is neither a pig nor is it from Guinea.

And why is it that a writer writes, but fingers do not fing, humdingers do not hum, and hammers don't ham. If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn't the plural of booth be beeth?

One goose, two geese, so one moose, two meese? One index, two indices, one Kleenex, two Kleenices?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends - but you don't make just one amend, we comb through the annals of history - but not just one annal? And if you have a bunch of odds and ends - and you get rid of all but one - what do you call it?

So tell me, if the teacher taught - why isn't it that the preacher praught? If a horsehair mat is made from the hair of horses and a camel hair coat from the hair of camels - what is the name of the animal that gives us mohair?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables - what does a humanitarian eat? And if you wrote a letter - perhaps you also bote your tongue?

Sometimes it makes you wonder if all English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people drive on a parkway - and park on a driveway? Then we recite at a play - and play at a recital?
We ship by truck and send cargo by ship? And have you noticed that we have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a fat chance and a slim chance be the same thing? While a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike?

How can weather be as hot as hell one day - and as cold as hell the next?

And then sometimes we only talk about certain things when they are absent.

No doubt you have seen a horseless carriage - but have you ever wondered what a "horseful carriage" would look like? And have you ever seen a "strapful gown", or met a "sung hero", or experienced "requited love?"

And I ask you, have you ever run into someone who was "combobulated", "gruntled," "ruly," or "peccable"?

And where are the 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 your alarm clock goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not by computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, is not really a race at all). That is why, when 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."

© Richard Lederer


Isn't that priceless? It certainly illustrates the nuances of meanings for different words...

If it's tough for us, who were born into it, have some kind words and thoughts for those who are struggling to learn it as a second language!

Roger signing off.

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