Foul Language


Let’s face it — English is a crazy
language. There is no egg in eggplant
nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor
pine in pineapple. English muffins
weren’t invented in England or French
fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies
while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet,
are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we
explore its paradoxes, we 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, 2 geese. So one
moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices?

Doesn’t it seem crazy 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 teachers taught, why didn’t preachers
praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables,
what does a humanitarian eat? If you
wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your

Sometimes I think all the English
speakers should be committed to an
asylum for the verbally insane. In what
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 a wise
guy are opposites? How can overlook and
oversee be opposites, while quite a lot
and quite a few are alike? How can the
weather be hot as hell one day and cold
as hell another?

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? 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 goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not
computers, and it reflects the
creativity of the human race (which, of
course, isn’t a race at all). That is
why, 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 this essay, I end it.


22 thoughts on “Foul Language

  1. ian franks says:

    People who learn English as a second language must be tearing their hair out. Just think of how we pronounce ‘ough’ – enough, cough, bough, through, thought. Not to mention spelling and pronunciation differences between British English and American English.


    • Archon's Den says:

      And I’m a Canadian, sitting right in the middle, being neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red meat. I prefer ‘harbor’ and ‘honor’ and ‘plow’ to ‘harbour’, ‘honour’ and ‘plough’ – but zed, for Z(zee). 😛


  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    I’m familiar with “foul language”. We have two dozen geese (gooses in dog language) who speak it all the time.

    I tried to come up with other tropes you might have missed but I struck out. Oops. Maybe not. Why does nobody ever strike in?

    One trope of late has me flummoxed. It is the use of “one off”. The dictionary tells me it means “happening only once and not repeated.” But when spoken, it sounds to me like saying part of the phrase, “one of (a kind)”, which would make sense. But “one off”? Makes no sense to me. Webster says it originated in Britain in the 1930’s, but now the contagion has spread here.


    • Archon's Den says:

      ‘One off’ is common here, and has been for so long that I just assumed the contagion had spread world-wide. I can’t get any of my online dictionary sites to offer any etymology, other than “British – 1938.” Making sense or not, it’s a two-word phrase we just have to accept the working definition of. The English language continues to evolve, whether we want it to, or can keep up. 😳


  3. any1mark66 says:

    Very good and interesting. You could do a couple thousand words on plurals


    • Archon's Den says:

      The English language will not only accept words from foreign languages, it will chase them down darkened alleys, and mug them for them. It contains so many foreign words that most immigrants feel at least a little ‘at home’ with it, but it does have a plethora of rules for things like plurals. 😯


  4. 1jaded1 says:

    Your house burns up as it burns down…perfectly stated. No profanity on my end re and et al, wow.


  5. shimoniac says:

    I’ve come to believe over the years that English, as a language, doesn’t have rules, it has suggestions. 😛


  6. BrainRants says:

    Hmm… driving on a parkway, until you reach home and park in your driveway.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Having stolen researched someone else’s example of linguistic humor for publication, I can refute/explain about half of the above objections. Still, English is a fun language. Its idiosyncrasies afford me much Crossword enjoyment. 😆


  7. Daniel Digby says:

    As I’m sure you found out from last week’s news, the plural of octopus is NOT octopi. In that case, I’m not sure what octopi are.

    The same article discloses that “scientists” (whoever they are) have determined that octopi (I mean octopuses) are aliens that came to earth from another planet. I’m sure the Government is holding their space ship in Area 51 along with all the others they’ve been collecting.


    • Archon's Den says: recently republished an article that claims that both octopuses and octopi are acceptable. Probably another example of ‘it’s been wrong so often, and for so long that it’s now correct.’
      There’s lots of examples of two similar words correctly meaning the same thing, though the wife’s boss once insisted that there was no such word as ‘spelt’, it had to be ‘spelled!’
      I just argued online with a guy who would accept ‘kneeled’, but not ‘knelt.’ 😯

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Daniel Digby says:

    Sorry, it was a different article that claimed octopi came from a different planet.


  9. David P. Cantrell says:

    Well said. Thanks for the link.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Rivergirl says:

    Unique lunacy sums it up quite nicely. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Liked by 1 person

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