Enunciate When You Pronunciate!

Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22626 – 934

Here’s the haps:


I have several readers who are non-native English speakers and several others what don’t talk good American but speak English, instead. Canada, The UK, Australia, New Zealand all have quirks of their own. “Can you imagine if we had lost the Revolutionary War? We’d all be speaking English right now!” “Well, we showed them. We got rid of all those unnecessary letters like ‘u’ in spelling and we use ‘z’ for ‘s’.” I cannot begin to imagine the pain of non-native speakers or English-As-A-Second-Language speakers. When I read Haoyan Do‘s blog, who has been here a long time, and how she and often the characters in her stories as well, still struggles with the language I just can’t imagine what it’s like. I have a friend who is a Spanish interpreter at one of the hospitals here and we were talking about how English is kind of this hodge-podge mish-mash of all kinds of other languages combined. Let alone grammar and syntax.



With all that in mind, I decided to repost this poem about the horrors of English pronunciation and spelling. I am sure I have posted it before but came across it in some old e-mails and it made me laugh as much this time as the first time. As I was preparing it for posting I realized that a number of these words are pronounced differently, not only in other countries but in different parts of the U.S.


English Pronunciation

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!



Chel Owens from chelowens.com provided a bit more information on the above poem. Apparently, it is called The Chaos and was written by Dutch immigrant, Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870–1946). Read about it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chaos


  1. A timely post Herb. We are just watching the classic My Fair Lady that is all about proper English. Worth a look. Our biggest laugh was when we visited New Zealand the first time and were told by the school kids that they like our accent. Until that point, it never occurred to us that WE had an accent. As a Canadian, I am a staunch defender of the u in colour and Zed not Zee. Everyone is different and that is what makes us all interesting. Have a good week. Allan

  2. Very good Herb You forgot to mention Africa. Many African nations speak their own version of just like Americans. My son studies Japanese and his teacher says English is in the top 5 hardest of all languages to learn because it doesn’t follow its own rules
    Laugh NOW Why wait?

  3. The poem reminded me of something that happened many decades ago. I remember it because it was one of those vanishingly rare instances when I thought of a snappy comeback at the moment I needed it, rather than too late for it to be of any use. I, a lifelong midwesterner, had gone to the east coast for a summer job, and everyone there thought I had a funny accent and mispronounced words. One day shortly after my arrival, one of the guys I worked with informed me that I was mispronouncing the word “aunt.” Where I come from, the “u” in “aunt” is a silent letter, and I was willing to let it be a case of simple regional differences, but this guy was not. In an attempt to prove me wrong, he said, “How do you pronounce the word ‘haunt’?” I said, “Haunt.” He said, “Now take off the H and what do you have?” Everyone in the room looked at me, waiting for me to humbly admit my mistake. Instead, I said “How do you pronounce ‘slaughter’?” He said, “Slaughter.” I said, “Now take off the S and what do you have?” Silence. Then the rest of the people in the room cracked up, and one of the other women said to me, “I think we’re going to like having you here!”

  4. Thank you for the shout out. Love your poem with so many confusing words. It is rather inspiring. I’d like to write a word poem too just to show the language trouble I have witnessed. I just googled and Terpsichore is a greek muse and she’s often carrying a funny instrument.

  5. I refuse to be stored there. I might suffocate. I got a headache reading that. Sorry i couldn’t finish that insanity (which is what the English language is).

  6. I loved the poem. It sometimes seems that the English language started out as a practical joke.

    One of my favorite oddities is this one: the lightweight metal we yanks call aluminum (with four syllables) has a syllable added with an extra “i” and is called aluminium by the British. Yet the extra “u” added to make the British colour does not add a syllable.

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