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Crazy English (An Excerpt from the Introduction)

by Richard Lederer


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 moose, 2 meese?
  • 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?
  • f 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 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 by ship?
  • Have noses that run and feet that smell?
  • How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
  • while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
  • How can overlook and oversee be opposites,
  • while quite a lot and quite a few are alike?
  • 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 horsefull carriage or a strapfull 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 goes off by going on.

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's 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!