When you speak it every day, you tend to take it for granted, but the English language is actually kind of crazy. In fact, a video reminding us of all the ways in which its sanity could be called into question recently went viral on YouTube. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:
A few gems from the video (all excerpts from Richard Krogh’s poem “The English Lesson”):
“If you speak of a box, then the plural is ‘boxes.’ But the plural of ‘ox’ should be ‘oxen,’ not ‘oxes.'”
” One is a goose, two are called ‘geese.’ Yet the plural of ‘moose’ should never be ‘meese.'”
“We talk of a brother and also of brethren, but though we say ‘mother,’ we never say ‘methren.'”
“I take it you already know/ Of tough and bough and cough and dough?”
“Watch out for meat and great and threat/ (they rhyme with suite and straight and debt).”
Why is English so weird?
Wikipedia notes that “In general, English spelling does not reflect the sound changes in the pronunciation of the language that have occurred since the late fifteenth century.”
For example, once upon a time, tough, bough, cough, and dough were all pronounced the same. However, the pronunciations naturally shifted over the years. The spelling, on the other hand, did not.
In fact, it seems like the only “spelling reforms” that ever stuck in English were the reforms that had the effect of making things more confusing. Take “debt,” for instance. Originally, it was spelled “dette.” Apparently the “b” crept in there when people began trying to tie it to the Latin word “debitum,” from which it was believed to be descended.
What about the irregular plurals? Many of them go back to the days of Old English. For example, “oxen” and “brethren” come from Old English weak declension, while “geese” is from Old English consonantal declension.
Crazy, isn’t it?