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English is Tough Stuff: Audio Recording of a Famous Pronunciation Poem, Much Beloved or Reviled by ESL Students and Lexophiles

February 25, 2010

800px-english-language-iconsvg.pngEnglish is Tough Stuff” is a poem intended to point out, satirize, or exaggerate the inconsistencies in English spelling and pronunciation. It is particularly popular on websites and online forums intended for people learning English. The introduction typically appended to the poem says that “a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months at hard labor to reading six lines aloud.”

On this forum and on this one, forum participants asked for audio files of the poem, especially read with an “American accent.” I am really quite happy to oblige!

I’m not sure if anyone’s gotten around to recording this before me (one of the above requests was from 2007), but as a semi-professional spelling bee word reader, I figure that I am uniquely qualified to contribute.

So, here it is — a four-minute audio recording of “English is Tough Stuff”!

English Is Tough Stuff

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
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.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt 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, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough –
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Have you listened yet? Here it is again:

I did have to look up sward, ague, Terpsichore, topsails (it sounds like tonsils with a p!), Balmoral, Melpomene, victual (“vittle”), foeffer, and gunwale (“gunnel”). Also, I chose to pronounce “bass” like the instrument, not the fish.

Incidentally, this blog says the poem was written by “a Dutchman, Gerard Nolst Trenité, who was born in Holland in 1870.”

After twelve or so takes reading this, I celebrated with a beer and a lozenge (not at the same time).


Williamsburg Spelling Bee Theme Song

December 3, 2009

My spelling bee co-host bobbyblue (an internationally renowned dance music star) dragged me into the studio to record our original Williamsburg Spelling Bee theme song. My voice had to be auto-tuned to a substantial degree. Enjoy!

On a related note, the Spelling Bee Finals will take place this Monday, December 7th, at Pete’s Candy Store.

Audio! Literacy recommended but not required.

March 4, 2007

Here we have a professionally-recorded audio clip of me reading my latest McSweeney’s piece. I thought you might like this if you somehow enjoy my blog but deeply resent being forced to process the written language.


by Jennifer Dziura

Jennifer Dziura’s Incomparably Humorous Podcast Volume 1

December 1, 2006

I have a podcast!

Jennifer Dziura’s Incomparably Humorous Podcast, Volume 1 (15 min 48 sec): Jennifer Dziura reads excerpts from her blog about one-armed surfer girls, hijabs, Socrates, and emotionally abusive Walkman ads, and closes out with a standup clip from her home base in Brooklyn, Pete’s Candy Store.

Click here to stream the podcast:


Click here to download the Podcast

Thanks to Greg Hoy and to Hello, Hilarious.

Skanks on a Plane

November 29, 2006

Here is some voiceover work I did for The Bob & Tom Show in August. (I didn’t write any of this, and the other female voices are not me — in fact, I only first heard the not-me parts when I received a CD of the clip in the mail).


Skanks on a Plane!

clip from my appearance on WEBN Cincinnati, August 7

August 8, 2006

Click to play!

(Radio-safe, but possibly not at all safe for work!)

Punned by the Times

December 31, 2005

Here is the last audio clip from my radio interview on “The Stress Factor,” in which I discuss seeing my breakup mocked in the New York Times (yes, this really happened!)

Punned by the Times
Related posts:

audio: I had a baby with a gay man
a radio clip, featuring “fellatio plus melons”
shout-out to all my peeps from Montclair State and “The Stress Factor”

audio: I had a baby with a gay man

December 19, 2005

Here’s another clip from the radio interview I did with “The Stress Factor,” this time discussing my babymama, the baby I’m having with a gay man, and how these things only happen deliberately.


“I had a baby with a gay man” – from “The Stress Factor”
I have another clip or two to post from this, but my favorite bit is actually right after I got off the phone (I had been talking about “fellatio plus melons”), when the hosts had this discussion:

“Holy moly, is what I have to say.”"We’re gonna all just, we’re gonna all just….”

“I think I need a cigarette.”


“Okay, we’re going to come back and deal with some of your relationship emails and issues.”

“At this point I don’t even care.”

a radio clip, featuring "fellatio plus melons"

December 17, 2005

Here is a clip from a radio interview I did on 11/3/05:


Jen discusses the Sarcastic Sex Toy Blog on “The Stress Factor”

this is me with host Lou Ruggieri at the Dec. 6 Spectacular
Related posts:

shout-out to all my peeps from Montclair State and “The Stress Factor”
From SarcasticSex: The T.B.M.

shout-out to all my peeps from Montclair State and "The Stress Factor"

November 11, 2005

I just now got off the phone with Lou Ruggieri, host of radio program The Stress Factor, recorded live at Montclair State University (pictured). We had a fantastic interview in which the hosts played my “Fairy Princess Name” bit (Lou liked the part about going to get a beer)…

Fairy Princess Name
…we talked about dating and comedy (and how a crockpot is a great replacement for a boyfriend), I invited everyone to my December 6th (my birthday!) Jenisfamous Spectacular at CB’s Gallery, and I discussed in somewhat euphemistic terms, referring listeners to the site to find out what a T.B.M. is (and oh, do you want to know).

I’ll post a link to the broadcast as soon as it becomes available. Mad shout-out to any new visitors coming in from the radio show!