Saturday, August 16, 2008

The English Detective

A member of the WV Writers Roundtable recently posted this poem as an example of the craziness of the English language:

PLURALS

--Author unknown

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.

The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

I went hunting online to see if there might be some clue to the author or the piece; instead of an author, what I found was this poem:

The English Lesson

We'll begin with box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.


You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be pen?

The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
And I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,
But I give a boot... would a pair be beet?

If one is a tooth, and a whole set is teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be beeth?
If the singular is this, and the plural is these,
Why shouldn't the plural of kiss be kese?

Then one may be that, and three be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose.
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.

The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim.
So our English, I think you will agree,
Is the trickiest language you ever did see.

I take it you already know
of tough, and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
on hiccough, through, slough and though.

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 in 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, then thwart and cart.
Come, come, I've hardly made a start.
A dreadful language:
Why, man alive,I'd learned to talk when I was five.

And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn't learned it at fifty-five.

[An alternative version quotes the final couplet as:
And yet to write it, the more I sigh,
I'll not learn how 'til the day I die.]

And on yet another webpage, I find an attribution to Richard Krogh, which is backed up by yet another page, that gives this citation for the poem:
* On page 480 of the second (1975) edition of his book, "Aspects of Language", Dwight Bolinger cited a portion of this poem. He credits Richard Krogh as its author, but says no more about its origins. (from http://www.cupola.com/html/wordplay/english1.htm)

So not only is the poem itself a wonderful play with words, finding the author is a game as well.

Further digging online revealed yet another poem about the English language:

When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?

Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few?

And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?

Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.

Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.

Think of hose, dose,and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose

Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.

Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?

Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.

Wherefore done, but gone and lone -
Is there any reason known?

To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don't agree.

This was written by Lord Cromer, published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902 and extracts were quoted in an SSS pamphlet in 1930.

Okay, take your choice: the first poem may be author may be anonymous simply someone writing something as a take-off on Lord Cromer's piece, or Krogh (who probably had all kinds of fun with the pronunciation of his surname).

Whoever should be credited, I like all three. Their point is well made--what a strange language we speak.

(And my, did Spellcheck have a time with this post!)

5 comments:

Terry Thornton said...

GrannySue: What fun! Thanks. I've enjoyed the English lesson. Needed it too!
TERRY THORNTON
HILL COUNTRY MONROE COUNTY MISSISSIPPI

City Mouse said...

Really interesting. There's such a neat tradition of "teaching rhymes," but this is really cool. And so specific. Sandstone Fall - really beautiful!

Granny Sue said...

Thank you! Terry, I bet your Anon might know about this rhyme.

It is a crazy language, isn't it?

Grand Life said...

Loved the English lesson and the pictures of Sandstone Falls. Also loved the blog's you recommended.
I love finding new and interesting posts to enjoy. Thanks for your visits to my posts.
Judy

deborah wilson said...

Sue,

I've read these before, they are fun, at least for now. Who knows, in 300 years, we may pronounce words totally different. The english language is forever changing.

(Change doesn't seem to apply to accents. lol)

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