Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Vagaries of the English Language

Last Saturday was a working day for me with a big show in London. The maker next to me was a delightful lady from Northern Italy. Naturally we got down to some serious nattering between customers and she explained how Italy is like two different countries. In her opinion there isn't much love lost between the North and the South! As the conversation meandered, we touched upon the different languages she spoke and how easy she found them to master. One of the main difficulties for her with English is deciding upon the correct pronunciation and the particular example she chose was "beard".. I simply had to agree that it can all be pretty random at times with place names such as Mousehole, Towcester, Leominster and Happisburgh sounding nothing like the way they're written. This little poem sums up the whole confusing business rather nicely I feel!

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through?
Well done! And now you wish perhaps
To learn of these familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
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 does 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 and thwart and cart...
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language man? Man Alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five!




  1. Thanks for sharing this poem. I haven't seen this particular one before but have come across other similar ones. Don't you just love the English language!

  2. How very true...I remember being taught something like i before e except after c...but there are exceptions! Jackie. x

  3. Those not English speaking raised have my utmost respect for learning it. It is built on so many others it just sprouted with confusion-with grammar rules.

  4. It truly is quite baffling at times....it wasn't any easier teaching it either!

  5. That's brilliant and very true. My dyslexic friend just can't understand why a word isn't spelled the way it's spoken!

  6. I have a fondness for this poem - I used it during an OFSTED inspection, and got a "very good" comment from the Inspector. But it's also great fun!
    My ESL students find the pronunciation of words difficult, but phrasal verbs cause even more confusion!

    1. When I used to teach English I often found the foreign students had a better grip of the grammar than the native speakers, but, yes, pronounciation could be a slippery beast. Not surprising really...it's very inconsistent at times! Arilx