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A Curiosity

Wednesday, May 15, 1996 by Dave Winer.

One of the curiosities of the Internet. An essay arrives forwarded fifteen times. It's funny! Who wrote it? No one knows.

This essay arrived on my desktop earlier this morning. I thought it was brilliant. The person who sent it doesn't know who wrote it.

English is a Crazy Language, author unknown Permalink to English is a Crazy Language, author unknown

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 or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

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? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one loose tooth, 2 leese teeth? One index, 2 indices?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? 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 preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo or a truck by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways? Lift a thumb to thumb a lift? Table a plan in order to plan a table?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can a person be "pretty ugly?"

How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another. Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who *are* spring chickens or who would actually hurt a fly?

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 clock goes off by going on. Why is "crazy man" an insult, while to insert a comma and say "crazy, man!" is a compliment (as when applauding a jazz performance.)

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.


I love puns. Now I know why!

Have fun!

Dave Winer

PS: Unfinished business from yesterday's DaveNet: Microsoft is doing a file system browser for Windows. Where will the equivalent functionality come from for the Mac? Netscape? Apple? Microsoft? Somewhere else? Hmmmm.

PPS: 7/23/97: I heard from the author, Richard Lederer, who has a website at http://pw1.netcom.com/~rlederer/index.htm. Thanks for getting in touch!

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."