English is Tough Stuff

Fun Friday is Back!  Most of the time I use my posts to explore how to improve writing skills. Today we will poke fun at one of English’s greatest drawbacks – it’s pronunciation. I dare you to try to read this aloud!  This is the shorter version, the original is over 270 lines long!

The Chaos by Dr. Gerald Nolst Trenite (1870-1946), a Dutch observer of English.

The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.

I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;

Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,

Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.

Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.

Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.

Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor.

Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.

Jack Sparrow would find this poem amusing.

Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

For the full length poem click here.

About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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22 Responses to English is Tough Stuff

  1. An old favorite. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Pingback: English is Tough Stuff (via My Literary Quest) « Aardvarkian Tales

  3. Lua says:

    Haha I actually did try to read it aloud!! 🙂
    It was fun! And love the confused Jack Sparrow picture- kind of looks like me when I finished reading the poem (the short version, of course)!

  4. Paula says:

    This is one of my all-time favorites, and thanks for reminding me! I have always argued with the “query does not rhyme with very.” I contend that they are exact rhymes! How does the poet suggest we pronounce query? Just a query on my part, but perhaps not very interesting to others. I wrote an ode to simplicity recently that sort of addresses the same thing – basically the good old English language!

    ©2010 Paula Tohline Calhoun

    I’ve heard it over and over again –

    The bigger the word, the more the pain

    To understand what one is reading!

    But I’ll not heed such lazy pleading

    To simplify the things I write –

    No! I can’t give up the fight

    To use the whole vocabulary

    Comprising my own formulary

    Of words I use for the edification

    Of those who lack my sophistication!

    Sound condescending or high-fallutin’?

    My reply is “Yer darn tootin’!”

    Though I’ve come at last to the conclusion

    That precise expression is my delusion.

    Still – I struggle every day

    For exactly le mot juste to say.

    (Therefore, when I’m in a pinch

    I will resort to using French.)

    But knowing the distance words can create

    ‘Twixt poet and reader, I know my fate:

    Continue to complexify

    and use those words that vexify

    Or reduce all words to just one syllable

    Like “cash is due” for “services billable.”

    I see it now, my choice is clear:

    For my readership will shrink, I fear,

    If I continue on my path

    And thus incur their scorn and wrath

    For my poetry, often complicated

    With words long and unaltercated.

    And were I to footnote with apostrophe

    My definitions and philosophy

    Of language, it would perturb me,

    Irritate, nettle, rag, disturb me.

    So if the reader’s always right,

    Then I must give up and cede this fight!

    From this day on I’ll do my best

    To satisfy my rhyming quest

    By using words both short and easy –

    Even when they make me queasy.

    But, until I get the hang of it

    You can expect me to harangue a bit!

    BTW: Do you know how to pronounce “ghoti?”

  5. Paula says:

    The last line is not part of the ode, but a little “quiz.”

    • tsuchigari says:

      I had to look up the word ‘ghoti’, had never heard of it before. Had a good laugh when I figured it out! I won’t give up the secret but I might do a post on it in the future.

  6. nrhatch says:

    Great fun! Thanks, Jo.

    @Paula. I agree with the poet:

    Query rhymes with dreary, deary, etc.
    Very rhymes with airy, fairy, etc.

  7. Paula says:

    Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree then! 😀

  8. Agatha82 says:

    The English language is beautiful and I love its complexities. It’s also easier to learn than others. I tried German not too long ago…oh my god, my head still hurts from trying to make sense of how to constuct a sentence, it just makes no bloody sense.
    That poem was great, I read it aloud and had great fun.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I haven’t tried German, but I’ve done a bunch in Latin based languages. Gotta say I’d choose Spanish verb conjugation a million times over inconsistent English pronunciation.

  9. oldancestor says:

    English is wonderful for all its choices. How boring if there were only one way to say something.

  10. oldancestor says:

    Sorry, Paula. I think they’re correct, though I am willfully in your camp when I speak the word aloud.

  11. cassim says:

    my pet peeve is: gain and again

  12. Paula says:

    You are right, cassim! I’ve always hated that as an oral rhyme…so cheesy, except it comes in very handy for written works!

    As to query – very; I am stubborn! To pronounce query like (in-quiry) takes away its distinction!

    Do you find that rhyming query with inquiry
    Makes you feel a little bit leary
    Of those who think it should? Though very
    Many would argue, I’ll not tarry
    On this, and withdraw my query.

    BTW: If writers were to write about what a wright wrights,
    would they write about wheels or ships?
    But if a playwright considers him/herself a writer, doesn’t that make him/her merely a scribe, or play-writer? So a writer writes, but a playwright wrights, right?

  13. This is a great reminder that English can be complicated. I used to use this when I taught French. My students always complained that French was so much more difficult than English. This little piece easily changed their minds.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I curse English pronunciation regularly, especially after I learned that most languages don’t have vowels that misbehave. That said I still manage to have a horrible accent when speaking Castillano.

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