I love language, more specifically the use of it. I’m not sure when this love affair began but I remember way back to when I was about six years old and my dad read to me The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I could see ol’ Huck and Jim floating the Mississip’ on their raft.
At some point I graduated to sports writers like Red Smith, books like The Great Gatsby and essayists like John McPhee and his incredible look at Princeton’s Bill Bradley (A Sense of Where You Are).
And then there was William Safire.
Safire died in September (2009) ending a life of language. I began reading his column, “On Language” when I was in high school and followed it through college. His giddiness over words was contagious. Safire was the first person I thought of when I read the column below in a local publication (sorry, would credit the author but there was no byline). One of the things I LOVE about Brits is their use of language. Many have a broad vocabulary and put combination of words together that make this English speaker feel like the language gods have rolled in a buffet of fresh catch and invited this mortal to a word feast. It’s sometimes like living in a Monty Python movie.
Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
The English Language Lesson
We’ll begin with a box and the plural is boxes, but the plural of ox become oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese, yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice, yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men, why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet, if I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth, why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
Beware of a heard, a dreadful word, that looks like beard and sounds like bird.
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
(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 goes off by going on.)