The crazy English language
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ENGLISH IS THE MOST WIDELY USED LANGUAGE in the history of our planet. One in every seven human beings can speak it. Of all languages, English has the largest vocabulary—perhaps as many as two million words, and one of the noblest bodies of literature.
Nonetheless, let’s face it: English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, and no ham in hamburger. English muffins were not invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweetened, are made of meat.
We take English for granted. But when we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly. Boxing rings are square. Guinea pigs are not swine from New Guinea. Why is it that a writer writes, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn’t the plural of booth be beeth? One goose, two geese – so one moose, two meese? If the teacher taught, why isn’t it true that the preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I wonder if all English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what other language do people drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? 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 as hot as hell one day and as cold as hell the next? 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 which your alarm clock goes off by going on.
People, not computers, invented English and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which of course, isn’t race at all). That is why, when stars are out they are visible but when lights are out they are invisible.
And when I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.
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