hintsandthings.co.uk »Library

Idiosyncrasies of the English language, anomalies in English, spelling and pronunciation



Caroline Hoon kindly
sent me the following idiosyncrasies –

begin with a box, and the plural is boxes; but the plural of ox became
oxen not oxes.

fowl is a goose, but two are called geese, yet the plural of moose should
never be meese.

may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice; yet the plural of house is
houses, not hice.

the plural of man is always called men, why shouldn’t the plural of pan be
called pen?

I spoke of my foot and show you my feet, and I give you a boot, would a
pair be called beet?

one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth, why shouldn’t the plural of
booth be called beeth?

speak of a brother and also of brethren, but though we say mother, we
never say methren.

the masculine pronouns are he, his and him, but imagine the feminine, she,
shis and shim.

The following, sent in by Deborah
, deals with with words that are spelt the same but have very different
meanings and, in some instances, sounds –

  • The bandage was wound around the wound.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The dump was so full it had to refuse
    more refuse.
  • We must polish the Polish
  • He could lead if he would get the lead
  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert
    in the desert.
  • Since there was no time like the present,
    he thought it was time to present the present.
  • A bass was painted on the head of the bass
  • When shot at, the dove dove
    into the bushes.
  • I did not object to the object.
  • The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  • There was a row
    among the oarsmen on
    how to row.
  • They were too close to the door to close
  • The buck does funny things when does
    are present.
  • A seamstress and a sewer fell down
    into a sewer line.
  • To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to
  • The wind was too strong to wind
    the sail.
  • After a number of injections my jaw
    got number.
  • Upon seeing the tear in the painting,
    I shed a tear.
  • I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  • How can I intimate this to my most
  • He sure “got my goat” = “He sure made me


Originally sent to me by Chris Jones but is
the work of Richard Lederer!

“It was brought to my attention today that you have an article on
your website called “IDIOSYNCRASIES OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE” that you list the
author as Chris Jones. 

In fact, the piece was not written by Chris Jones, but is taken directly
from the introduction to my book CRAZY ENGLISH (Pocket Books, 1989). Sometime around 1990
or 1991, READERS DIGEST excerpted the essay for their magazine and in the last few years
the “digested” article has appeared all over the Internet, mostly unattributed
and, very infrequently, with someone else claiming authorship.  In each instance
(about 800 at this time) I find an appearance of the essay — and to protect MY copyright
— I alert the site managers of the problem and request a corrected citation. I enjoy
having my work distributed widely on the Net, but must insist on proper attribution.
  Please feel free to continue to use the essay on your site, providing you offer a
corrected citation. For the complete essay, go to the archives section of my website
http://verbivore.com/wordpress/  and click on “English is
a Crazy Language” (in four parts). I will appreciate hearing from you about this
matter as soon as possible. Richard Lederer”

Let’s face it — English is a crazy

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

Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are

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

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?

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 a 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 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 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 horseful carriage or a strapful gown?

Met a sung hero or experienced requited love?

Have you ever run into someone who was, 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.

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 an essay, I end it.

As a final note –

I plough on thoroughly through the
rough although I cough and hiccough.