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Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

English is a Crazy Language

English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet. One in every seven human beings around the globe can speak English. And more than half of the world's books and three-quarters of international mail are written in this crazy tongue.

Of all languages, English has the largest vocabulary - perhaps as many as two million words - and of course it has one of the noblest bodies of literature.

However,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.

credits@Richard Lederer
"Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Language" (Pocket Books, 1989).


  1. Very well written. English is a funny language no Doubt but as we know that it is a global language now and we can't live without

  2. See a language per se is just collection of words and sounds. Its the culture, the history and common idiom that give it an identity and what defines it. English has to be given credit for accumulating the finest of all the cultures it has come in contact with, where else would one find words from latin, greek, roman, arabic, urdu, persian, chinese all being used by people around the world. I say remarkable and inspiring this is how the world should be, humanity over everything else

  3. @Kash:
    I agree with you that a language is a representative of culture and identity but at the same time, there are certain aspects that are beyond logic...and here, I mean NOT just English but almost all the languages. This also add to their beauty at times.
    As far as humanity is concerned, in my opinion, it starts where 'us and them' become ONE!