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English is Tough Stuff!


As a French teacher, I love language-related humor, but I try to post a good variety on my blog. Because of some of the news in the personal update, I thought I'd go language-related with today's post.

The poem below has been attributed to several sources, as best as I can ascertain by doing web searches. One source says it came about as an exercise from the multi-national translation personnel at the NATO headquarters in Paris. According to some reports, the personnel maintained that English wasn't so hard to learn, except that English pronunciation is a killer! And apparently they composed the poem to prove their point.

Another source says that a an English teacher in Holland required his students to learn by heart this poem he called "The Chaos." The English teacher was named G. Nolst Trenité and lived in the city of Haarlem. Trenité wrote articles under the pen name Charivarious and a little booklet entitled "Drop Your English Accent," in which the poem appeared.

Anyway, I've tried to cover the attribution bases, tending to believe that the latter might be the right one.

So now on to the iv.... Try reading even just a part of the poem aloud and see what happens. The poem highlights effectively (some would say extremly) some of the myriad incongruities of English spelling and pronunciation. If you're unsure of the pronounciation of some words, you could go to merriam-webster.com and type the word in the search box.

It's been said that after trying to read this poem aloud, one native French interpreter said he'd prefer to spend six months at hard labor than reading any six lines out loud!

Every language has its own difficulties as a foreign language that non-native speakers try to master. However, the English language is so notoriously difficult to learn that it's amazing we manage to communicate at all, at least in writing, suffice it to say that English is tough stuff!

The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;
So I shall! Oh, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say - said, pay - paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding - sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
From desire - desirable and admirable from admire,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation's OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?
Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.
Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You'll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.
Would you like some more? You'll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,
Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",
But it is not hard to tell
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
People push and rush to possess,
Desert, but desert, and address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.
"Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker",
Quoth he, "than liqueur or liquor",
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.
Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.
And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,
Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn't) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
Don't be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.
Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)
Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don't mention,
Sounds like pause, pores, paws, and pours,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;
Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don't want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.
But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.
Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you're not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.
Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.
Please don't monkey with the geyser,
Don't peel 'taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.
The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget 'em -
Wait! I've got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.
The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight - you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.
Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion, Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess - it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.
Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.
Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce.

Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.
Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,
Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.
Pronunciation - think of Psyche! -
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won't it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
Hiccough has the sound of sup.
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

divider

This Saturday evening the Modern Language Department at BJU is sponsoring three language plays from the Middle Ages. I have had the joy and responsibility of preparing my cast of nine students to present Le Vilain mire - The Peasant Doctor. If anyone local would like to come see the German play, the Spanish play, and the French play, they will begin at 7:00 pm in the SAS Assembly Room. Even if you don't know the languages, you might be pleasantly surprised by how much you understand.

Another bit of personal news is that it appears that my wife and I will not be going to Asia this summer to teach. Last fall when I contacted the Dean at the university where we'd taught two other summers, I was surprised to learn that some retired teachers from Mississippi had already contacted the Dean about teaching. We got an e-mail the other day indicating that those teachers are still planning to go. We are still willing to go if they don't end up going, but the Dean said we could definitely come in 2009.

quotation...

"One of the most important things prayer changes is you." - Dr. Tim Keesee

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

"To do is to be." -- Plato
"To be is to do." -- Kant
"Dobe dobe do." -- Sinatra


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6 Comments on “English is Tough Stuff!”

  1. #1 Carrie
    on Feb 21st, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Someone had too much time on his hands!

  2. #2 Jonathan
    on Feb 22nd, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Was that allowed to be read aloud?

    ivman adds:

    You won’t have to go to court if you have the courage to read aloud what is allowed to be read aloud.

  3. #3 Vikki
    on Feb 22nd, 2008 at 11:38 am

    I’ve got to ask – did you have to type all of this in by hand? It took the better part of the morning to plow through all of it, but it was well worth it. I guess I should feel blessed that I grew up speaking English. I sure pity the poor soul who has to learn it as an adult!!

  4. #4 Sherry
    on Feb 26th, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    That was priceless. I wish I still taught high school English. I’d force some little know-it-all kid to read that in class. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. And by the way, excellent job with the play on Saturday evening. I enjoyed it a lot!

  5. #5 Karen Milligan
    on Jan 29th, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    I thought the “poem” The Chaos was terrific! I plan on using some of it in teaching an English class to a group of home school students next month,

  6. #6 Rob
    on Jan 30th, 2009 at 5:45 am

    @Karen – I’m glad you like it and that it will be of help with your English class. It is quite long, but also quite impressive as it weaves together so many words whose pronunciations defy explanation. I’d be interested in hearing how the students react to it.