Funny, EnglishEnglish is a relatively easy language to learn but a difficult one to make sense of, writes KEE HUA CHEE.
ENGLISH is the undisputed universal language, spoken and used in every civilised society as well as in not-so-civilised places. Know English, and you can globetrot from Timbuktu to Toulouse, to Togo.
But this easy-to-learn language is filled with enough pitfalls to leave even the proficient red-faced. For every rule, there is an exception – or several. And it is a language that is sometimes filled with jargon and double meanings.
English is supposed to be among the easiest languages to pronounce but then Leicester is pronounced as “Lester” whereas Manchester is not “Manster”! Ditto for Dorchester Hotel, which comes in three syllables. “Aisle”, “isle” and “I’ll” are spelled differently but pronounced the same! The “l” in salmon, “b” in debt and “g” in poignant are all silent.
We take English for granted and seldom bother to examine its many paradoxes since we have been drilled from young to accept them. But if you explore its idiosyncrasies, you will discover some things are the exact opposite of the actual meanings.
For instance, the animal slow loris is so-called because it is very slow moving, so you’d think “quicksand” would imply that it is where you will sink quickly but, in fact, quicksand works slowly!
A town square is indeed squarish and the Pentagon building in Washington is called that as it has six sides. Yet Circle Seats in theatres are actually semi-circles because if it were truly a circle, half of the audience would be seated facing the wall, not the stage!
And we know a boxing ring is not a ring at all but a square, yet no one thinks of naming it “boxing square”.
Mind you, there is no egg at all in eggplants and no lady’s fingers either in ladies’ fingers. There is neither pine nor apple in pineapples but that’s what the fruit is called. Frankfurters were invented in the German city of Frankfurt and hamburgers in Hamburg, but English muffins were not invented in England, nor were French fries in France.
And did you know Danish pastries were first made in Italy?
If you are a fruitcake, it means you are mad, but what has healthy fruits and nutritious cake to do with insanity? Sounds crazy to me.
Staunch vegetarians can eat sweetmeats as they are actually candy, but they wouldn’t touch sweetbreads, which are neither bread nor weets, but a meat delicacy. Bombay duck is not a bird from Mumbai but a fish. A guinea pig is not from Guinea and hardly a pig.
Strawberries do not resemble straw at all and raspberries do not make any rasping sounds. However, blueberries are really blue and blackberries are black.
In the US, Europe, Hong Kong and Japan, the word “hamburger” is used to describe a bun sandwich regardless whether the meat patty is pork, beef or chicken. Only in certain countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East are the correct terms used: beef-burger, chicken-burger and fish-burger.
Now we all know that singers sing, dancers dance and fighters fight. But hammers don’t ham, artists don’t art and harpists don’t harp.
If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth?
One index, two indices. One codex, two codices? One pretext, two pretices? One Cartier, two Cartiers, but for Rolex, it is two Rolexes?
One goose, two geese. One moose, two meese?
You can make amends but not make one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all except one of each, do you end up with one odd or one end?
A vegetarian eats vegetables so what does a humanitarian eat? Ok, a humanitarian is obviously pro-human so is a vegetarian pro-vegetables? And if so, he shouldn’t be eating them?
How can a “slim chance” and a “fat chance” mean the same thing while a “wise man” and “wise guy” are opposites?
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of this language when a house can burn UP as it burns DOWN and you fill IN a form by filling it OUT.
And, of course, the alarm goes off by going on. How do you wrap up a meeting when it is not even tangible? Only in English do we recite at a play and play at a recital, ship by truck, have noses that run and feet that smell (which might also mean your toes can detect odours, like eyes see)!
Finally, if you prove I am wrong, well, of course I will be forced to eat my words!