Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Other Things I Do Sometimes: The Chaos

Unlike the last time I published a poem, this is not of my own design. But m7 recently put up a list of oddities about the English language, and it reminded me of a similar (longer) thing that showed the same thing. It is attributed to "Charivarius (G.N.Trenité)," and I found it in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, by David Crystal, ©1995 Cambridge University Press.

As I told m7, English does have a lot of oddities but the alternatives are worse. I went into more detail in his comments but oddities like these will happen until we either regularize spelling or regularize pronunciation, and either one would cause a whole host of other problems.

You'll note as you read this that you have to give a lot of words the British pronunciation to make the rhymes (or "rimes") work out, but the poem is amusing nonetheless. Note that it wouldn't be nearly as interesting if it were read aloud (although it could be); the poem relies on the way that words look alike but sound different.

The Chaos

Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
   I will teach you in my verse
   Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
It will keep you, Susy, busy.
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
   Tear in eye your dress you'll tear.
   So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
   Just compare heart, beard and heard,
   Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain,
(Mind the latter, how it's written!)
   Made has not the sound of bade,
   Say—said, pay—paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
   But be careful how you speak,
   Say break, steak, but bleak and streak,
Previous, precious; fuchsia, via;
Pipe, snipe, recipe
and choir,
   Cloven, oven; how
and low;
   Script, receipt; shoe, poem, toe,

Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
   Typhoid; measles, topsails, aisles;
   Exiles, similes, reviles;
Wholly, holly; signal, signing;
Thames; examining, combining;
   Scholar, vicar
and cigar,
   Solar, mica, war
and far.
From 'desire': desirable—admirable from 'admire';
Lumber, plumber; bier but brier;
   Chatham, brougham; renown
but known,
   Knowledge; done,
but gone and tone,
One, anemone; Balmoral;
Kitchen, lichen; laundry, laurel;
   Gertrude, German; wind
and mind;
   Scene, Melpomene, mankind;
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
   This phonetic labyrinth
   Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
and flood are not like food,
   Nor is mould like should and would.
is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with 'darky'.
   Viscous, viscount; load and broad;
to forward, to reward,
And your pronunciation's O.K.
When you say correctly croquet;
   Rounded, wounded; grieve
and sieve;
and fiend; alive and live;
Liberty, library; heave
and heaven;
Rachel, ache, moustache; eleven.

   We say hallowed, but allowed;
   People, leopard; towed,
but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
   Leeches, breeches; wise, precise;
but police and lice.
Camel; constable, unstable;
Principle, disciple; label;
   Petal, penal
and canal;
   Wait, surmise, plait, promise; pal.
Suit, suite, ruin; circuit, conduit

Rime with 'shirk it' and 'beyond it'.
   But it is not hard to tell,
   Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular; gaol; iron;
Timber, climber; bullion, lion,
and storm; chaise, chaos, chair;
   Senator, spectator, mayor.
Ivy, privy; famous, clamour

And enamour rime with 'hammer.'
   Pussy, hussy and possess.
but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf; countenance; lieutenants

Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
   River, rival; tomb, bomb, comb;
and roll and some and home.
does not rime with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
but foul and gaunt, but aunt;
   Font, front, wont; want, grand,
and grant,
Shoes, goes, does.
Now first say: finger,
And then: singer, ginger, linger.
   Real, zeal; mauve, gauze
and gauge;
   Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
   Dost, lost, post
and doth, cloth, loth;
   Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
   Seat, sweat, chaste, caste; Leigh, eight, height;
   Put, nut; granite,
but unite.
does not rime with 'deafer',
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
   Dull, bull; Geoffrey, George; ate, late;
   Hint, pint; senate,
but sedate;
Scenic, Arabic, pacific;
Science, conscience, scientific;
but our, and succour, four;
   Gas, alas
and Arkansas!
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm; Maria,
but malaria;
   Youth, south, southern; cleanse
and clean;
   Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
with battalion,
with ally; yea, ye,
   Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.

   Never guess—it is not safe;
   We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf!
Heron; granary, canary;
and device, and eyrie;
but preface, but efface,
   Phlegm, phlegmatic; ass, glass, bass;
but target, gin, give, verging;
Ought, out, joust
and scour, but scourging;
but earn; and wear and tear
   Do not rime with 'here', but 'ere'.
Seven is right, but so is even;
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen;
   Monkey, donkey; clerk
and jerk;
   Asp, grasp, wasp;
and cork and work.
Pronunciation—think of psyche!
Is a paling, stout and spiky;
   Won't it make you lose your wits,
   Writing 'groats' and saying groats?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
and Isle of Wight,
   Housewife, verdict and indict!
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
   Finally: which rimes with 'enough',
   Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
has the sound of 'cup' ...
My advice is—give it up!


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