Take My Word

English is a beautiful language. I don’t know who invented it, but English has a lot of characteristics that make it very satisfying to write and to speak. That said, …

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English is a beautiful language. I don’t know who invented it, but English has a lot of characteristics that make it very satisfying to write and to speak.

That said, there are some things about the way English keeps evolving that seem a bit random – inconsistencies that somebody really should attend to.

The word “but,” for instance, is a perfectly neat and serviceable conjunction; so why does it sound exactly like the word for the back end of our anatomy, as in “kick some butt?” (As if we didn’t already have enough synonyms for that body part.)

And then there’s words that rhyme but have different spellings and meanings – like “eagle,” and “regal” or “rain” and “rein” – not to be confused with “reign.” (What’s that stupid “g” doing in there anyway?)

The often-used verb “do,” must get pretty tired of being pronounced just like “due” and “dew.” How come they get three letters and “do,” the verb, only gets two?

Despite its rather negative meaning, the word “whore” has a kind of elegant sound to it, unless you grew up in the Bronx and hung around with guys like Joe Pesci, in which case it’s pronounced “Hoo-wah,” (as in the movie GoodFellas).

And why does the word “odd” have to lug around two “d”s, the last of which you can’t even hear, while “rod,” “cod,” “sod” and “pod” only have to manage one “d” each?

You can find the hybrid word “lite” on all kinds of product boxes and bottles. The only place you can’t find it is in Webster’s Dictionary. I guess that’s because some manufacturers are afraid their “lo-cal,” “lite” dairy product might be mistaken for a light bulb.

The word “Europe” gets this big fancy “E” to start it off. So where’s the “E” for the hard-working “urologists?” And wouldn’t “humorous” just be funnier if it began with an “e” instead of an “h?”

The word “alright” has been kicked around a lot these days because no one can agree on whether it’s one word or two, as in “all right.” Why can’t we decide which one is “right?”

Of course, when you start to bring foreign words into our language, somebody always gets hurt. Case in point; the hard working, utilitarian word “cash” gets totally trounced by the foppish French word “caché,” with an accent mark hanging off its last letter like a verbal shirttail or something.

And what’s the deal with just arbitrarily sticking a “g” in the middle of a word where you can’t even hear it? Like in “foreign,” or the ridiculously un-spell-able “poignant.” Or the even more improbable “knight” with a silent “k,” “g” and a silent “h!” Those letters need to either speak up or get out.

Can anyone tell me who gave permission to turn the gracefully sibilant “s” into that nasty old sounding “z” as in “cousin,” or “raisin?” (Leave the “z” for Tarzan.)

But there are so many beautiful words, too. One of my favorites is “lull.” It just sounds like what it means, either as a verb or as an abstract noun. And it even feels good in your mouth.

Meanwhile, “tantalize” can do a stimulating dance on your tongue, while no compound word makes me laugh more than “underpants.” I’m not sure why.

“Crap” is one of our better naughty words but I think it could be a lot snappier if spelled with a nice crackling “k.”

Despite all the inconsistencies in our language, I still think English sounds lovely when spoken well, and it looks so beautiful on the page, too. If you ever have any doubts about this, listen to Dylan Thomas reading one of his poems. Or Sir John Geilgud reciting Shakespeare.

Good morning. (Yawn.)