English … The Universal Language … Why?

profWhoever conceptualized and created the English language must have had a deliciously wicked sense of humour. Perhaps it was a Scotsman. After all, the Scots invented golf, and as Robin Williams comically pointed out, it sure has a way of messing with your head.

I am Canadian and English is my native tongue. But I have to admit, it astonishes me that it has become the universal language, particularly when it  comes to business.

I suspect it has a lot to do with the influence of the United States, but when you think about it, English is both terribly complicated and illogically illogical. Want an example of just how illogical it is? Here goes! Bob Wright has both the rite of passage and the right of God to write with his right hand, right? Six different meanings and four different spellings of the same sounding word. Crazy, write … ehem, right?

In fact, the language is rife with words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and mean something different. You’ve got, for instance, son, your child, and you’ve got, sun, that big yellow thing in the sky!

It’s not even consistently illogical. For example, you’ve got horse vs hoarse and coarse vs course. Remember the old TV show, Mr. Ed?  “A horse is a horse of course of course…!” Or was it, “The voice of the horse was hoarse and coarse of course?!”

And like ‘right,’ there are lots of words that are spelled the same, but have entirely different meanings. For example, a plant could be something that grows out of the ground or a place where things are made; like a car plant. Or maybe you just want to plant a bomb.

Want an example of how complicated English is. Consider what happens when it comes to expressing plurals. Most of the time, we simply add an ‘s’ (sometimes an ‘es’), but not always. For example:

  • We have one woman, but we have four women
  • We have one mouse, but we have four mice
  • We have one deer, but we have four deer (say what? Where did the s go?)

And when you’re ordering refreshments for your buddies, should you order four beer or four beers?

The same is true for how we handle past tense. Standard operating procedure is to added an ‘ed,’ for example, chopped or helped. But then you’ve got the following nonsense:

  • slide vs slid
  • run vs ran
  • drive vs drove

We do make the language somewhat easier by instituting certain general rules of thumb. For example, when ‘i’ and ‘e’ are used together,  ‘i’ comes before ‘e’ except when they come after ‘c.’ Well, not always! Like if it concerns your weight. Weird eh?  Hmmmm!

And speaking of vowels, they all have multiple pronunciations, which you don’t think much of until you start learning another language … like Estonian where each vowel has a consistent sound! Big (beeg) deal (deel) you (u) say (sae)!

I didn’t appreciate how difficult the language was until I had children. “Did you see the deers daddy? They randed across the field when you driveded into the ditch!”

It doesn’t stop there. Lots of words have un-pronounced letters … pneumonia and receipt, for example … does somebody have something against ‘pees?’

And there’s more! The letter ‘h’ is generally pronounced except at that hour when we honour our parents (unless of course when you are in the United States where you honor your parents by removing u … but not you!).

There are lots of ways the English language can trip you up. For instance, it’s socially acceptable to prick your finger, but it’s not okay to finger your prick (penis).

Now I’m no language expert, but I gotta believe it doesn’t get any harder than English. Even Finnish with its seven plus syllable head bangers and French with its gender variations must be easier than the Queen’s native tongue.

If I didn’t know better (the U.S. didn’t exist in the 16th century when modern English was first spoken) I might think the CIA, or perhaps Congress, concocted a diabolical plan to confuse everyone with a very confusing language. But alas, such was not the case!

One last beauty for you. Consider ewe (a female sheep) and eye (the balls on either side of your nose … as opposed to knows … that you use to see). If English isn’t your first language, I dare you to try and figure out how to pronounce them. And if English is your first language, I dare you to explain it!

God help us!

Oh yes, it really doesn’t matter if you order four beers or four beer, but if you order fore beer, you’d better duck! (FORE!) Cause a Scotsman just teed off!

Have an awesomely illogical day!


10 comments on “English … The Universal Language … Why?

  1. I laughed throughout this entire post, because everything you said is true… I don’t know why (yie) the English language is so crazy… I have always thought the words should just be as they sound instead of having so many meanings to one word or spelled so far off base from how they sound. Great post.

  2. And then the Americans came along and decided to complicate it all even further with different words for the same thing; and weird ways of spelling and pronunciation. Trouble is they took over the world and there is forever those annoying little changes on the spellcheck that one has to remember to change back again…..
    great post

  3. Hi Fred. Amusing post! You might be interested in a book I’ve written called If Houses Why Not Mouses? It covers quite a lot of the points you mention, silent letters, vowel changes like run/ran etc. Check it out here


    Also, David Crystal wrote a book recently on the history of English spelling.

    All the best

    Damian O’Brien

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