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This is English? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

I got into a discussion with my long-time friend Michael Hutchinson, in the UK, via Skype – if you don’t know Skype, you’ve missed the boat – and we exchanged strange pronunciations of words. You might know that the place name Leicester is pronounced – by the English – as “Lester,” and Worcester becomes Wooster” when spoken. Michael provided these:

Family names:

Cholmondley – "Chumley"

Featherstonehaulgh – "Fanshaw"

Colquhoon – "Cahoon"

Beauchamp – "Beecham"

Place names:

Leominster – "Lemster"

Milngavie – "Mulguy"

Gateacre – "Gattacka"

Kirkcudbright – “Kirkoobrey”

Strathaven – “Straven”

Mousehole – “Mowzel”

Fowey – “Foy”

Colleges in Cambridge:

Caius and Magdelene – "Keys" and "Maudlin"

And both a place and a family name:

Beaulieu – "Bewley"

The best part is that Michael headed his list: “Here is a list of names and how they are pronced” and signed it, “Mial.”

These English...

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A Word by Any Other
written by Realitysage, December 02, 2008
Apparently the Queen's english is in the eye of the Beehoulder....
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Woo-Woo or ?
written by Willy K, December 02, 2008
So UK believers believe in "Worce-Worce" and Americans believe in "Woo-Woo?" smilies/cheesy.gif

Willy K
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Tom of Bethlehem
written by inquisitiveraven, December 02, 2008
Going along with the "Magdalene"/"Maudlin" thing, are you aware that the word "bedlam" comes from a shortening and corruption of "Bethlehem" in reference to a medieval hospital turned insane asylum?
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written by Kimpatsu, December 02, 2008
What are you complaining about? Americans regularly misspell such words as "colour", "flavour", and "behaviour" because they are so selfish, there is no room for "u" in their language... smilies/tongue.gif smilies/grin.gif
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written by dmills, December 02, 2008
Here's a couple more:

Wymondham (town in Norfolk) - "Windham"

St John (surname) - "Sinjin"
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written by Marcus, December 02, 2008
Another family name - Bruttenholm - "Broom"
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written by BillyJoe, December 03, 2008
And, pray tell, what is this doing in Swift. smilies/cool.gif
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Silly one
written by Ricsuth, December 03, 2008
My Mother knew a girl at School in the 1940s whose surname was Sidebotham, pronounced
as even Americans will know as Side-bottom. But, the little girls Mother insisted it was
pronounced Siddy-botarm, due to a squeamishness about bottoms one assumes!!
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written by weol, December 03, 2008
Belvoir (village in Leicestershire) = Beaver

As a northerner, I would pronounce Worcester as Wuster.
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written by stuart, December 03, 2008
Small place in Wiltshire is Bicknoll promounced Bynoll - of course
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written by Careyp74, December 03, 2008
growing up I would put wor-chester-shy-er sauce on my meat, but after living in New England, I learned how wrong it was. Wustershir is easier to say too.
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written by Eccles, December 03, 2008
My favourite example is the name "Menzies", pronounced "Ming-iss". This is because the "z" was a substituted for the Middle English letter "yogh", apparently when printing presses were introduced, because "yogh" wasn't available in the typefaces. This was recently brought to the UK public's attention when the politician Menzies "Ming" Campbell became a party leader.
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written by Dave Henderson, December 03, 2008
And for the same reason as Menzies; Zuill (surname) is pronounced Yool.
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"C" vs "K" oddities
written by fkereki, December 03, 2008
If I remember it right, the "C" as in "CAESAR" was pronounced as a "K", so the German version "KAISER" is closer to the original latin. Watching a recent Doctor Who episode, which took place in Pompeii, I was surprised hearing "CELTIC" pronounced as "KELTIC" -- but the dictionary shows it´s correct. Also, "CIVIL" was originally pronounced "KIVIL".

As to "CAIUS" (no problem with the C/K sound here) it should be pronounced "KAH-EE-OOS", as far as I know -- for Spanish speakers it´s easier!
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written by Casper, December 03, 2008
The answer to the question, "This is English?" is NO. Of course it isn't.

These place names and surnames are vestiges of Britain's past, specifically the waves of immigration by Celts, Romans, Nordic peoples, Normans, Angles, Saxons (and dozens of other Germanic tribes), the Vikings - I could go on and on. Are some of these names anachronistic? Yes.

As for the Scottish place names, well, Gaelic doesn't work the same as English, what with it being a completely different language and all that. So, for instance, 'Milngavie' is an Anglification of Muileann Dhaibhidh, which is pronounced Mill-Guy or Mull-Guy.

Taking the mickey out of this stuff is understandable, but ask yourself what reaction there'd be to ridiculing Native American placenames.
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written by Chris Hughes, December 03, 2008
Then there was the English jazz bassoonist, Cannonball Cholmondely -- pronounced 'Canaynonball'...
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0 0
written by Cuddy Joe, December 03, 2008
Some more:

Geller = Moron
Browne = Moron
Edward = Moron
Sheldrake = Moron


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Hmm
written by kevinmurphy, December 03, 2008
[cough] Arkansas [cough]
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written by AMFCook, December 03, 2008
Forecastle - Folksal

Glocester - Glouster
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written by cass, December 03, 2008
You might know that the place name Leicester is pronounced – by the English – as “Lester,”


I've looked at that a few times, and I can't imagine it being pronounced any other way, how is it said over on 'your side'?
I once heard the name of the nearby town of Loughborough (Luffbra) called Looga-borooga, by a visiting American. I love this stuff!
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The "English Language"...
written by featheredfrog, December 03, 2008
..is, as they say (they?) the result of Norman Knights trying to pick up Saxon Barmaids.

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written by Eccles, December 03, 2008
I've looked at that a few times, and I can't imagine it being pronounced any other way, how is it said over on 'your side'?


I think Leicester usually mis-pronounced as "lie-ces-ter". I've also heard US visitors refer to Morecombe ("More-come") as "Morry-com-bee", which caused much head scratching until we worked out where they were refering to.

Not that we natives do much better sometimes, I got asked for directions to "Happydale" a few years ago instead of a local area called Apedale (pronouced "ape-dale"). A shame really, Happydale sounded nice.
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 03, 2008
Essentially the same in the US. Everyone know where Nooyawk, Bahstin, Nawlins, and Lanta are? We won't even go near Schenectady, Poughkeepsie, Terre Haute, Ypsilanti, or Lizard Lick (NC). It's almost as if America was settled by people from all over the world.
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written by W0X0F, December 03, 2008
Two other names:

Taliaferro - pronounced "Tolliver"
Corcoran - prounounced "Cochran"
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written by cwniles, December 03, 2008
When I first moved to New England I saw a sight reading Worcester and commented to the other people in the vehicle "war-chester, hmm, what an odd name". Of course they all laughed and explained that it is pronounced wooster.

Subsequently we passed another sign reading Rochester and I exclaimed "ha, a town named rooster!"





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written by JohnMorr, December 03, 2008
Sorry, folks - in the UK "Worcestershire" is pronounced "Wooster" - as in Bertie.

Yours, John
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written by dr pepper, December 03, 2008
And "Bucket" is pronounced "Boo-kay".
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 03, 2008
Hmm, have to get my wife a bucket of roses.
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written by lecanardnoir, December 03, 2008
The old joke goes that an Australian student arrives in London and tries to catch a train to Loughborough (pronounced Luffbra) and asks for a ticket to Loogaburooga.
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written by Jon, December 03, 2008
I'm surprised such comments should come from Randi and with so little research. A little effort would quickly discover how and why many words and names change over time and in particular the majestically flexible English language.

Just a little thought in your own country on how Native American words and place names have been "mangled" along with family names from innumerable immigrants to the USA, should have given a clue. Not to mention how many, many UK place names, common in the US, have had their original pronunciation changed dramatically.

Would Randi express such surprise at the odd pronunciation differences of through, bough, cough, hough, hiccough etc. not to mention the mismatch of spelling and pronunciation of "sh" in shirt, sugar, action, issue, ocean, conscious, mansion, schwa, anxious and special.

I have not been moved to criticise Randi before but this article appearing in SWIFT is very poor.

Mr. Randi, take some time out to read Bill Bryson's "Mother Tongue". It's an easy and often amusing read and will perhaps prevent you posting such odd and uncritical articles.
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written by Jon, December 03, 2008
I would also like to add that the article is extremely parochial in its nature, though it's intention would appear to be to amuse.

I wonder if it would be equally amusing that to a Brit, Americans pronounce simple place names such as Nottingham and Birmingham like a small child with a reading difficulty.
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written by hdhondt, December 03, 2008
I'm not a native english speaker, but I first came across featherstonehaugh & cholmondeley (and Bertie Wooster, not Worcestershire) in one of PG Wodehouse's books, many years ago. I can't remember when I first learned how to pronounce them, but they have been 2 of my favourite ways to poke fun at english for many years.

I heard another story quite some time ago:

Sometime during the 60s(?) a US air force pilot was flying over England and was almost demoted because he failed to report back over Gloster, as he could not find Gloucester on his map.

This story may be apocryphal, but it's good enough to be true. And, to add insult to injury, there was a British jet fighter called a "Gloster Meteor"
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written by BillyJoe, December 03, 2008
written by BillyJoe, December 03, 2008
And, pray tell, what is this doing in Swift.smilies/cool.gif


My entry was a joke of course - as much of a joke as Randi's article was light hearted.
And of course it was a prediction of things to come.

Thank you, Jon, for falling into the stew. smilies/wink.gif
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Funny
written by ove, December 04, 2008
I allways find it VERY amusing when Americans scorn Englishmen with language. smilies/grin.gif
I am reminded of Professor Higgins immortal words in "Why can't the English people learn to speak their tongue: "In America they haven's spoken it (English) for years" ......
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written by cwniles, December 04, 2008
well at least no one got upset over politics smilies/grin.gif
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What's this doing in Soot?
written by DrMatt, December 04, 2008
Accidents of miscommunication may be a major source of unusual beliefs. One "natural healer" I met at Stanford in 1986 told me "no, no, you're confusing pH with acid-base!" He apparently really didn't realize the relationship between the two.
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 04, 2008
"England and America are two countries separated by a common language." ~George Bernard Shaw.

And hey, that 'Jon' guy is a charmer, eh wot?

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written by majikthize, December 04, 2008


And both a place and a family name:

Beaulieu – "Bewley"



Very close to Beaulieu is the village of Dibden Purlieu - pronounced "pearly-you"!

And, of course, that "lieu" in the word lieutenant is pronounced "left", as in "leftenant".

Consistency anyone?
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written by DrMatt, December 04, 2008
}}} And, of course, that "lieu" in the word lieutenant is pronounced "left", as in "leftenant".

That's so you can distinguish them from rouxtenants.
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 04, 2008
Here in the Colonies we have Beaufort NC and Beaufort SC. The NC town is pronounced 'BOH-furt' while the SC town is pronounced 'BEW-furt'. I've written emails to each town mayor requesting resolution of this discrepancy. What next? North Carolina and South Caroleena?
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Don't correct Hyacinth...
written by SheldonHelms, December 04, 2008
Mrs. Bucket answers the phone with a melodic: "Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!"
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written by SheldonHelms, December 04, 2008
I had a feeling this discussion would devolve into nationalism and insult, and many of you didn't disappoint me. Randi is just having a bit of fun here; there's no reason to take it seriously. Anyone who thinks theirs is the "correct" way of speaking/pronuncing/spelling is showing his or her ignorance of how languages evolve and change over time. According to many linguists, the American accent is a "truer" form of English than the one currently spoken in England. Parts of the U.S. became something of a linguistic Madagascar, preserving the pronunciation of the 1600s and 1700s, while the English in England evolved in a different direction. I remember watching a video of actor Patrick Stewart (Royal Shakespeare Company member since 1966) in which he instructed the actors to take on a more "American" pronunciation of vowels if they wanted to sound like Elizabethans.
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written by DrMatt, December 04, 2008
In America we say "Windows is shutting down." What language is that?
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written by dr pepper, December 04, 2008
For more fun with pronunciation, spelling, syntax, etc, go to languagelog.com
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written by BillyJoe, December 04, 2008
SheldonHelms,

Lighten up.
Everyone so far - except you and Jon - have been joking around with this thing.
Even when we've been serious.

Bj
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A few more:
written by donjunbar, December 04, 2008
In Canada we all pronounce Newfoundland as Newfinland.
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written by Marcus, December 04, 2008
Nearly forgot - there are plenty of places whose names are invariably abbreviated by locals. For instance, Barnoldswick is pronounced by locals as "Barlick". Also, the village in Bedfordshire where I was born, Wilshamstead, was always pronunced "Wilstead" - and when I returned there a few years ago, the street signage had actually been changed to read as it's pronounced!

Oh, and because Yorkshire folk are weird - Slaithwaite, pronounced "Slew-it". And don't even get me on to Hawick in the Scottish borders...
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written by Kuroyume, December 04, 2008
Putting the humor aside a bit, English is a relatively new language compared to many others which was, one supposes, originally some form of Britain/Gaelic/Celtic/Welsh later mixed with Latin (the Romans occupied Britain for nearly 400 years!) followed by influences of Angles, Saxons, Normans, Vikings, French (excusing the Normans), Germans, and so on. In its early popular written forms such as the "Canterbury Tales", 'ye ole' English' was extremely Germanic and mostly unintelligible to most of us. Language isn't a rulebook written once and enforced by language police. It is a dynamic organism which evolves and changes for every environ and has a life of its own.

I love people who learn a foreign language and then find themselves a bit disconcerted when they can't understand the native people in every aspect (no matter how academically fluent). Every region occupied by a language has dialects. Are you from New Joisey? I'm from New Joisey? Whatcha say, ya'll? I say 'wutter', you say 'wahter', someone else says 'wallter'. We mostly understand the word (by context at least). In the US, there are at least four or five major dialects of 'English' (not including those of other non-English languages adopted into the common vocabulary). For every language there are variations and deviations both in pronunciation and spelling. Not even going into Chinese and Japanese (there are books which ponder if Japanese even understand Japanese).

When it comes to 'historical' names (place, person, or otherwise), now you're into the realm of how it was spelt versus how it was pronounced. Gloucester as 'Gloster' seems perfectly sensible if you accept that the spelling and pronunciation once had meaningful acquaintences in the language. And sometimes spelling diverges from pronunciation to the point where the original spelling no matter makes sense to the pronunciation due to accent or expedience. Panzer used to be panzerkampfwagen but was shortened in general usage.

One wonders if Rimmer's love, Esparanto, has evolved or, because of its desire to be pure, has gone stale and dead. A non-evolving, playful language is of no use for meaningful and expressive communication.
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written by BillyJoe, December 04, 2008
Kuroyume,

Interesting comment.
But why do Americans have to actually kill the language.

BJ
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written by Roo, December 05, 2008
Well, I'm a longtime fan of Mr. Randi from England, and I will admit to feeling a bit disappointed in this article. Everywhere in the world has its particular idiosyncracies. But why make us English reader feel quite so stupid? Shouldn't we be concentrating more on the peddlars of woo than belittling and laughing at each other? smilies/sad.gif
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written by BillyJoe, December 05, 2008
We now have Roo in the stew as well! smilies/grin.gif
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written by Blue Bubble, December 05, 2008
Ghoti and chips for tea tonight ? smilies/wink.gif
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written by Diverted Chrome, December 05, 2008
Beauchamp – "Beecham"
This one's particularly funny since Beauchamp is a common place name in France and is French for "beautiful field" (though commonly translated as meadow or park as well and pron. bo-shom).
But with the French and English fighting for centuries, why would the Angloterres have kept the Gallic pronunciation?
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written by Diverted Chrome, December 05, 2008
@Casper
"ask yourself what reaction there'd be to ridiculing Native American placenames."
I live out west and we are amused by it. Hell, I've had native friends who are amused by their own historical names, same as us with non-native genes. Most people just aren't major uptight.

@Cass
"I've looked at that a few times, and I can't imagine it being pronounced any other way, how is it said over on 'your side'?
I once heard the name of the nearby town of Loughborough (Luffbra) called Looga-borooga, by a visiting American. I love this stuff!"
Yeah, it's fun tossing this back across the pond. Though we hear Leicester pronounced occasionally here, you might still hear an American say "lay-sees-ter" or "lie-ches-ter". We pronounce borough the same as burrow. Lough isn't hard though some Americans might say "low" or "loeg". Maybe you can just keep the loogabooga guy. Some English place names were reused correctly in New England, but, in such a big country, many have the same problem with never having heard that, too (Worcester, Mass.).
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delurking
written by bakerkb1, December 05, 2008
OK, this thread made me decide to delurk. Anyonw ready for a Limerick?

There was a young fellow from Salisbury
Whose manners were Halisbury-Scalisbury
He went around Hampshire
Without any Pampshire
Until the Bishop compelled him to Walisbury
.
.
.
Well, if you happen to be an Englishman you might look at Salisbury and simply say the old Roman word for the town, Sarum. And while Hampshire is a county, on correspondence it is frequently abreviated as Hants and pronounced that way.
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written by Roo, December 05, 2008
written by BillyJoe, December 05, 2008

We now have Roo in the stew as well!

Roo stew is a delicacy in Australia I understand... smilies/wink.gif

But no hard feelings - I still love Mr. Randi. Here's something apropos this debate from Frank Adamson. And then I really am going to shut up on this topic(!):
We polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
A farm can produce produce.
The dump was so full it had to refuse refuse.
The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
The present is a good time to present the present.
At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
The dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance for the invalid was invalid.
The bandage was wound around the wound.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number.
I shed a tear when I saw the tear in my clothes.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
When couldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
And I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,
But I give a boot would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular is this and plural is these,
Why shouldn't the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?
Then one may be that, and three may be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose;
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!
So our English, I think you will all agree,
Is the trickiest language you ever did see.
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?
Why shouldn't the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?
Then one may be that, and three may be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose;
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.

We'll begin with box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
When couldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
And I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,
But I give a boot - would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular is this and plural is these,
Why shouldn't the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?
Then one may be that, and three may be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose;
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!
So our English, I think you will all agree,
Is the trickiest language you ever did see.

I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That 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.
And dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there's dose 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, then thwart and cart.
Come, come, I've hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Why, man alive,
I'd learned to talk it when I was five,
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn't learned it at sixty-five!
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written by BillyJoe, December 05, 2008
I surely hope you found that somewhere to copy and paste.
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Another delurk
written by Niall, December 05, 2008
Ooh, I haven't had a good delurk in ages! This will be no different I suspect as all I can offer is the best place name I found in 30 states & 17,000 miles of the USA: Dead Donkey Gulch.

Not mysterious; no hidden meanings; simple, direct, it is what it is.
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 05, 2008
"Not mysterious; no hidden meanings; simple, direct, it is what it is. (Dead Donkey Gulch)

I can name that tune in two less words! Climax (North Carolina, US).
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This phonetic labyrinth
written by Hannibal, December 07, 2008
This is of course simply a fun discussion, but I tend to agree with the Dutchman who wrote the verse of "This Phonetic Labyrinth", the first lines of which is reprinted here:

"Dearest creature in creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy"

For the complete poem, see this link: http://www.elp-blink.com/Articles-Labyrinth.htm
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busy