Spelling to drive you mad.

Hello and welcome to my first blog for 2017.

It has been said (Mark Twain? Oscar Wilde?) that America and Britain are two countries divided by a common language. True in part. But if the English language has enough idiosyncracies to confuse native speakers (whichever side of the pond), what about the millions of people for whom it is not their first language?

Here is a limerick* to test your skills at pronunciation (or you patience). It was sent into The Times on Tuesday by Alec Gallagher.

There was an old woman from Slough

Who once had a terrible cough.

She sounded quite rough

But battled on through.

I’m sure she’ll get over it though.shamrock

*A true limerick is a five line comic verse where the first, second and fifth lines should rhyme and have three metrical feet, and the third and fourth lines should rhyme,and have two metrical feet. There is a county and port in SW Ireland called Limerick and the term ‘limerick’ is thought to come from the nineteenth century refrain ‘will you come to Limerick?’ sung between nonsense verses at a party.

If the limerick above isn’t enough of a challenge, try the poem below by ‘Anonymous.’

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 is 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.

Nor 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 do and go, then thwart and cart – 

Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Why, man alive!

I’d mastered it when I was five!

And yet to write it, the more I try,

I’ll not learn till the day I die.

So why is the English language full of such crazy variations in spelling and pronunciation that are sure to catch out the unwary foreigner? In no small part it is because it is full of words and spellings we’ve absorbed over the centuries from said foreigners. Maybe more about this in future blogs during 2017…..

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2 thoughts on “Spelling to drive you mad.

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