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,
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.