I Love the English Language, but it is Fundamentally Crazy

The end of the year makes you think, ponder really, “What am I doing with my life?” and “Am I making the world a better place?”.

Before I started doing technical writing, I dreaded the self examination, the sneaking suspicion that I could be doing more, that I was far from the best at what I was doing.

I love being a Technical Writer, because I love reading and learning new things. I’m an English language nerd.

However, if you really think about it, English is practically the opposite of science.

Speaking English only, the way most of America does, is probably the biggest reason why most students here struggle with math and science.

English is the bubblegum of languages. The Germanic Angles and Saxons built it piecemeal, trading with each other. We can thank them for the tiny number of nouns that have an assigned gender without an actual sex (why ships are called “she”). In 1066, the French speaking Normans conquered England and systematically married in to the local aristocracy. English acquired a huge layer of vocabulary with Latin and Greek roots like: liberty, equality, and fraternity. We return to these roots when we need names for our new inventions like: elevator, automobile, telephone, and television.

The French have an entire academy trying to keep foreign words out of their language. They try to turn back the tide by renaming “le walkman” as “le baladeur”, but fail to keep people from using “le weekend” instead of “le fin de semaine”. English speakers are happy to use words from other languages, and hardly remember a word’s foreign origins. Avatar, bandanna, cot, dinghy? I’ll bet you didn’t think you knew any Sanskrit.

The rules of English grammar, spelling, and even phonics are riddled with exceptions. Most people learn English as a first language by absorbing it from parents, friends, and TV. The rules are briefly covered in school and used only when trying to un-learn non-standard English.

A facility with English requires a tolerance for ambiguity and contradiction of fundamental rules that simply does not prepare you for math, science, or even other languages.

English, as Pete Seeger so eloquently put it, is crazy.

Please enjoy his lyrical smackdown and embrace the craziness as I have.

English is the most widely spoken language in the history of the planet.

One out of every seven human beings can speak or read it.

Half the world’s books, 3/4 of the international mail are in English.

It has the largest vocabulary, perhaps two million words,

And a noble body of literature. But face it:

English is cuh-ray-zee!

Just a few examples: There’s no egg in eggplant, no pine or apple in pineapple.

Quicksand works slowly; boxing rings are square.

A writer writes, but do fingers fing?

Hammers don’t ham, grocers don’t groce. Haberdashers don’t haberdash.

English is cuh-ray-zee!

If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn’t the plural of booth be beeth?

It’s one goose, two geese. Why not one moose, two meese?

If it’s one index, two indices; why not one Kleenex,two Kleenices?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

You can comb through the annals of history, but not just one annal.

You can make amends, but not just one amend.

If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one, is it an odd or an end?

If the teacher taught, why isn’t it true that a preacher praught?

If you wrote a letter, did you also bote your tongue?

And if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

Why is it that night falls but never breaks and day breaks but never falls?

In what other language do people drive on the parkway and park on the driveway?

Ship by truck but send cargo by ship? Recite at a play but play at a recital?

Have noses that run and feet that smell?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same

When a wise man and a wise guy are very different?

To overlook something and to oversee something are very different,

But quite a lot and quite a few are the same.

How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell the next?

English is cuh-ray-zee!

You have to marvel at the lunacy of a language in which your house can burn down

While it is burning up. You fill out a form by filling it in.

In which your alarm clock goes off by going on.

If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?

Well, English was invented by people, not computers

And reflects the creativity of the human race.

So that’s why when the stars are out, they’re visible,

But when the lights are out, they’re invisible.

When I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this rap,

I end it. English is cuh-ray-zee!

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