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Posts Tagged ‘English’

What’s UP?

Recently Becka and I rented and watched the Disney Pixar movie UP and enjoyed it immensely. Whoever wrote the script really understood little boys. Then this past week I received an e-mail from a long-time friend about the word up and thought it would make a good blog post. After tidying up and reworking the e-mail, I'm posting it to up the educational value of my blog.

I'm fairly certain that the only two-letter word in English that could be a noun [n], verb [v], adjective [adj], adverb [adv], preposition [prep], and also an abbreviation is up. And no other two-letter English word has more meanings. You will have to be up on your grammar to recognize what part of speech up is each time it is used. To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of up, look up the word up in the dictionary. In a small dictionary, it takes up almost 1/4 of the page and can add up to about thirty definitions.

Don't mess up as you use this word. Using it correctly is up to you.
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Spelling and Pronunciation Woes

picture of dominoes

Although the following is not news to long-time ivman readers, it may help newcomers to understand a little more about the guy who does this blog. After teaching French as a foreign language for 32 years and German for 16 years, I found out what it's like to teach English as a foreign language when my wife and I taught summer school at a university in China in 2005 and 2006. English is not easy, even if you grow up speaking it, but trying to explain some of the oddities of English to non-anglophones makes you realize just how quirky English spelling and pronunciation can be. With that in mind, I've put together several things from my files that highlight some of those difficulties of the English language.

The combination of letters "ough" at the end of various words has seven different pronunciations, as shown in the following poem:

'Tis not an easy task to show
How o-u-g-h sounds; since though
An Irish lough (lok) and English slough
And cough and hiccough (hik'kup) all allow,
Differ as much as tough and through,
There seems no reason that they do.

The following could really make you say "Hmmm..."

If GH can stand for P as in Hiccough,
And if OUGH stands for O as in Dough,
And if PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis,
And if EIGH stands for A as in Neighbor,
And if TTE stands for T as in Gazette,
And if EAU stands for O as in Plateau,
Then an alternative spelling of POTATO could be GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU,

No wonder the English language is so hard to learn and master, huh? I sometimes wonder how we manage to communicate at all! We have many homonyms – words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same, as illustrated in the picture at the beginning of this post – ate/eight, weigh/way, eye/aye/I, etc. But worse yet, we have words whose spellings are exactly the same and yet whose pronunciations differ, based on how the words are used!

One of my pet peeves is the mispronunciation of one of the sayings of Dr. Bob Sr. — "Duties never conflict." I often hear people say it using the pronunciation of conflict as if it were a noun, with the emphasis on the first syllable. But since conflict is a verb in the saying, the emphasis should be on the second syllable. I'm not sure where that mispronunciation began ... I certainly hope it wasn't Dr. Bob Sr. himself. 🙂

Below are some fine examples for your analysis. (It's more effective if you try to read the following sentences aloud.)

We must polish off the Polish sausage before it spoils.

He could lead if he got the lead out.

The farm was used mainly to produce produce.

The dump was so full that they had to refuse more refuse.

Sometimes I progress without making any real progress.

The soldier decided to desert in the desert.

There's no time like the present to present the present to the birthday boy. (Whoa! Two pronunciations, but three uses!)

Even though I read it last year, I will read it again this year.

Instead of a trout, a bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

I did not object to the object he offered me.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

His teacher was content with the content.

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

The two of us were too close to the door to close it. (Not only does this one use "close", but it also contains the dreaded to-too-two homonyms.)

The buck does funny things when does are nearby.

With her needle and thread the sewer could not fix the tear in the sewer line, she reported later with a tear in her eye. (A double whammy in this one.)

To help with the planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

The wind was so strong we couldn't wind the sail.

If you were in the slough of despond could you just slough it off?

After a number of injections my jaw finally got number.

The king had to subject his subject to a series of trials.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

If someone resent an e-mail to you, would you resent it?


We are having a lot of fun with our German house guests, each supplying for the other the English word or German word that the other person would like to say but won't come to mind. In the process we've all learned many words, idioms, and slang in each other's language. The other evening I learned a word I didn't know before. What was funny about it was that I immediately figured out what the word had to mean from the knowing the two root words and hearing it in its context. The word is Staubsauger, which literally means "dust sucker." From what Diana was saying, I knew right away that it has to be the German word for vacuum cleaner. I'll have to do a blog post sometime on German compound words!

I hope your week is off to a good start. I'm looking forward to what will be added to this post through readers' comments.


"True worship is never stingy." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

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The English Language Is Crazy!

picture of languages

Have you ever studied a foreign language? If so, you have probably encountered enough vocabulary items or idiomatic expressions to know that there are things about a language that are inexplicable to speakers of other languages. If you are an English speaker who hasn't studied another language, then imagine trying to explain some English expressions to foreigners learning English. For instance, if you were to tell someone, "keep your nose to the grindstone," how would you explain that you mean that you want the person to keep working hard, and not to do an activity that would be not only stupid and unnatural, but also extremely painful and messy?

Being a French professor, former German professor, and having studied a little Spanish and Chinese, I have done my share of trying to understand some basic idiomatic expressions for myself and of trying to get others to understand them. As hard as it is sometimes to get my French students to accept and use certain idioms in French, I must say that the two summers my wife and I taught English in China were far more difficult. The differences between our cultures and our languages are so great that the gap is hard enough to bridge already. But then compounding that with the hundreds of inexplicable things in the English language makes the task all the more daunting!

Below is something I've pieced together, using various things in my files. You English speakers (anglophones) out there need to read the following with an eye towards being the one who has to explain all this to non-anglophones.

The English Language Is Crazy!

If we English speakers thought about it, we would have to admit that English is a crazy language. The reasons for that statement are almost endless. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, and neither apple nor pine in pineapple. A mushroom is not a room where we eat mush. English muffins weren't invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We simply take English for granted. Yet if we explored its paradoxes, we would find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? No. Just as we can have one mouse, two mice and one louse, two lice, but not one house, two hice. Crazy!

Doesn't it seem odd that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If a teacher has taught, has a preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue? And try to explain verbs like sing, sang, sung, ring, rang, rung, but not bring, brang, brung. Or better yet sink, sank, sunk, drink, drank, drunk, but not think, thank, thunk?!

Should English speakers all be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane? In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike?

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Have you ever met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly, or peccable? And where are all those 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 an alarm clock goes off by going on. And 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 a speech, I end it.

And then English teachers seek to enforce and reinforce all these things! They tell us not to use a double negative in English because a double negative forms a positive. If an English teacher told me there is no language where a double positive can form a negative, my reply would be "Yeah, right!"

In some languages, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. In fact in French, you can have more than two negatives, and it's still just fine. "Personne ne fait jamais rien pour moi" is a perfectly acceptable sentence in French, but an English teacher would insist that the literal translation "No one never does nothing for me" would be better rendered "No one ever does anything for me." I somehow prefer the French on this one since the correction just sounds too positive.

So, do you agree with me that English is a crazy language?


Our German house guests, Uwe and Diana, arrived last evening, and so far we are having a great time together. Diana speaks some English, but Uwe's English is stronger. I can say far more in German than I thought I could, but we've already talked about all kinds of things where my German vocab was either weak or non-existent. Trying to get our ideas across to each other has been challenging, but fun also. I'll give an update in a blog post next week.

I mentioned above that French fries weren't invented in France. Some people almost go into a panic when they hear that, but fries were invented in Belgium. The French don't mind that we call them French fries, even though the French tell Belgian jokes in the same way that Americans tell Polack jokes. In fact, in France I've told many Polack jokes, substituting "Belge" for "Polonais," and the jokes fly! Several years ago one of my cousins from France sent me the following funny picture of a bloody battle in Belgium.

War in Belgium (la Guerre en Belgique)...

picture of French fries in a bloody battle

(Click on the image for a larger version of it. In case you still can't tell what it is, it's fries with ketchup on some of them.)

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on our crazy English language and/or your funny mistakes in grappling with idiomatic expressions in another language. I've made my share of mistakes through the years!


"God's plan in our trials is not to make us more self-sufficient. It's to make us more dependent on Him." - Alan Benson

=^..^= =^..^=

Refuse Novocain ... Transcend Dental Medication

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Jewish Grammar Rules

picture of oil bottle

Does something ever sound funny to you, and you don't know quite why? Or, if you now live somewhere other than where you grew up, do you ever say things that sound funny to others? My wife and I grew up in northwestern Ohio where the word wash is pronounced "worsh." People there also "redd up" the table after meals and "redd up" the house before guests arrive. When we were in college out of state, we had to eliminate those things from our speech, or be prepared to be teased or to explain what we meant.

In several of my classes today we were talking about the placement of adverbs in French sentences. In English we often put short adverbs before the verb – as in the bold print in the first part of this sentence. My students were having trouble understanding why using English word order in French would sound weird to the French who never put the adverb before the verb. I gave them one of the classic Pennsylvania Dutch examples of funny word order, where prepositional phrase placement in sentences turns "Throw the horse some hay over the fence" into "Throw the horse over the fence some hay"), which illustrates a slightly different effect of altering word order.

Along that vein, I found some rules for Jewish grammar in my files and am posting them, followed by what would make some great Jewish Country-Western Hits.

Jewish Grammar Rules

1. When making statements, phrase them as questions. Instead of telling Ida she looks gorgeous, ask her, "Ida, how stunning do you have to look?"

2. Instead of answering questions definitely, answer with another question. When someone asks how you feel, answer, "How should I feel?"

3. Whenever possible, end questions with "or what?" This allows the other person to interject another question: "Has she grown up, or what?" — "Can you remember when she was just a baby, or what?" (Don't be surprised if someone bursts into "Sunrise, Sunset" at any moment.)

4. Begin questions with "What?" For example: "What, my cooking is not good enough for you?"

5. Drop last word in sentence (which is typically a direct or indirect object): "What, do you want to get killed going alone? Harry will go with." (dropping the "you").

6. Move subject to end of sentences: "Is she getting heavy, that Esther?"

7. Use "that" as a modifier to communicate contempt: "Is Esther still dating that Norman fellow?"

8. Use "lovely" to describe actions taken by someone else that the listener should have done too: "We got a lovely note from the Goldmans for hosting the Seder." (Translation: "What, you didn't eat and drink too, at my Seder? You slob, you didn't send a thank you note!")

In using your newly obtained Jewish grammar remember that just because Jews are asking questions, doesn't mean they're going to wait around for an answer. If you've got something to say, speak up. Interrupt often. It shows that you are interested in the conversation. If you're talking and Jews don't interrupt you, they're bored.

Here's a lovely blend of Jewish and Country-Western phraseology and themes...

Jewish Country-Western Hits

For You I Should Be Singing?!

I Was One of the Chosen People ('Til She Chose Somebody Else)

Stand by Your Mensch

I've Got My Foot On The Glass, Where Are You?

My Rowdy Friend Levi's Comin' Over Tonight

You're the Lox My Bagel's Been Missin'

Mamas Don't Let Their Ungrateful Sons Grow Up to Be Cowboys (When You Could Very Easily Have Taken Over The Family Hardware Business That My Own Father Broke His Back To Start And Your Father Sweated Over For Forty-Five Years Which Apparently Doesn't Mean Anything To You Now That You're Turning Your Back On Such A Gift!)

Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Latkes

The Second Time She Said Shalom, I Knew She Meant Goodbye

I Balanced Your Books, but You're Breaking My Heart

Four Thousand Years of Sufferin', and I Had to Marry You?!


Have you discovered things that you grew up saying that others don't understand, or what? Or have you heard some interesting regional expressions?


“God doesn't call us to blind faith – He's given us lots of evidence.” - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

"Let me tell you the one thing I have against Moses. He took us forty years into the desert in order to bring us to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!" - Golda Meir

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English Must Be Difficult!

If you grew up speaking English, be glad you did! The English language has so many subtle shades of meaning and idiomatic expressions, that people learning English as a second language have a really tough task. When we anglophones learn a foreign language we get a glimpse into how hard it is to master the intricacies of another language. When we anglophones try to teach our language to non-English speakers, we find many aspects of our language difficult, if not impossible, to explain.

I have made some horrible mistakes in French, German, and Chinese which usually resulted in laughter followed by an explanation. Such experiences are humbling, to say the least, but they have provided great opportunities to laugh at myself and to empathize with my students as they struggle to make themselves understood and as they make funny mistakes themselves. I'm sure that, as people from all over the world converge in Beijing for the Olympics and as they try to use Chinese phrases they've been memorizing, they will make some great mistakes. One of my best mistakes was when I was trying to tell someone I was from America (Mei Guo - roughly pronounced may-gwa) which in Chinese means literally "Beautiful Country." (Keep in mind that Chinese is a tonal language, that is, a change in tone often changes the meaning of the word.) When I pronounced it, though, I got the wrong tone on the second part of the word and said I was from "beautiful melon." I really think that some Chinese people just don't like my tone of voice.

That said, I am posting today some great examples of English mistakes or oddities from other countries. No one country or language is alone in finding English difficult!

English Must Be Difficult...

In a Tokyo Hotel:
Is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such thing is please not to read notis.

Instructions in a Belgrade elevator:
To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.

A sign in a Bucharest hotel lobby:
The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

In a Paris hotel elevator:
Please leave your values at the front desk.

Sign in a hotel in Athens:
Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 am daily.

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across the street from a Russian Orthodox monastery:
You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday.

On the menu of a Polish hotel:
Salad a firm's own make
Limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger
Roasted duck let loose
Beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion

Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop:
Ladies may have a fit upstairs.

In a Rhodes tailor shop:
Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.

On the box of a clockwork toy made in Hong Kong:
Guaranteed to work throughout its useful life.

From the Soviet Weekly:
There will be a Moscow exhibition of arts by 150,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.

In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist:
Teeth extracted by the latest methodists.

In a Swiss mountain inn:
Special today - no ice cream.

In a Czechoslovakian tourist agency:
Take one of our horse-driven city tours - we guarantee no miscarriages.

In a Copenhagen airline ticket office:
We take your bags and send them in all directions.

On the door of a Moscow hotel room:
If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.

How a sewage treatment plant was marked on a Tokyo map:
Dirty water punishment place

In a Budapest zoo:
Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

In the office of a doctor in Rome:
Specialist in women and other diseases

From a story in an East African newspaper:
A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.

In the window of a Swedish furrier:
Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin.

Sign in a Vienna hotel:
In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter.

Sign in a Hong Kong supermarket:
For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.

In a Tokyo shop:
Our nylons cost more than common, but you'll find they are best in the long run.

From a Japanese information booklet about using a hotel air conditioner:
Cooles and heates - if you want just condition of warm in your room, please control yourself.

From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo:
When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.

Detour sign in Japan:
Stop. Drive sideways.

Sign in an Austrian hotel catering to skiers:
Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.

An Italian hotel brochure:
This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude. In fact, crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy its solitude.

Menu at an Athens hotel:
Chopped-up cow with wire through it (shish kebab)

A Polish tourist brochure:
As for the tripe served you at the Hotel Monopol, you will be singing its praises to your grandchildren as you lie on your deathbed.

Two signs from a Majorcan shop entrance:
- English well speaking
- Here speeching American

4-star toilet

fall carefully please

please die elsewhere

practice dog etiquette

dont fall down

monkeys in the forest

offer your seat to the needy

Chinese Olymepic Cmmittee

begin with me

no stuff only

very suspicious market

wealth dream

And here's one that we've been told about and have suspected was true all along...

hot dog

Have you seen any examples of English obviously written by a foreigner?

By the way, this Friday is an Ultimate Bonza Bottler Day - 8-8-08!


"If it's big enough to make me worry, it's big enough to take to God." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Did ancient Roman paramedics refer to IV's as "fours"?

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