Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Ode to the English Language

by Eugenie A. Nidia*

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you 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?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!
Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple..
English muffins weren't invented in England .
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship...
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and
in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop.??????

*From internet research, it seems that this poem first appeared in the EFITA Newsletter in January 2006... The original title is “Pluralities.”
However, I have also read also that it dates back to the mid-1800s...
The EFITA newsletter lists as the contact; however, the email address doesn't work.
So. Who knows. If YOU do, tell me!


  1. LOVE this!! And thank God mother's not mop--that would be too cruelly ironic!

  2. Thank you! I needed a laugh today. I'm printing this out for my linguistically-inclined 10-year old. She'll have a ball with it.

  3. And this is why I feel so bad for my ESL students.

  4. This is fabulous! And I agree with Missed Periods, I feel so bad for ESL students!

  5. Excellent! I know this is way older than 2006 because my school librarian read it to us back in the early 90's. I'm not sure what the original source is, though.

  6. This is awesome. I love how unique we a crazy mixed up sort of

  7. Ah, that's us- and it doesn't even cover the difference between British English and American English! Who would ever think writing is easy?

  8. I love this! And to think that people around the world can learn English but most Americans dont' speak a second language!

  9. They have funny postings on the English Department's bulletin board at my university. One of my personal favorites is a sign that reads "i before e except after c. Weird."