August 21, 2010
I’m in India!
Did that remind you of this?
I’ve seen a lot of goats. More coming soon!
English is Tough Stuff: Audio Recording of a Famous Pronunciation Poem, Much Beloved or Reviled by ESL Students and Lexophiles
February 25, 2010
“English 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.”
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).
September 28, 2009
Last Tuesday, I got a perfect score on the GRE. It was fun, and then I got to feel super-nerdy all day. On this fateful GRE, I saw the word “sanguinity.”
This rather bothered me, because, while of course I’m very clear on sanguine vs. sanguinary, to which of these two words do related forms such as “sanguinity” refer?
I did know the word “consanguinity,” so I assumed that “sanguinity” referred to cheerfulness rather than savagery. This turned out to be a correct assumption, but in the course of verifying the assumption after the fact, I discovered “sanguineous” and “sanguinness.”
How could normal humans ever tell to which word each refers? If this part of the English language were a GRE question, I would petition to have it stricken from the test. Sanguineous is bloodthirsty, incidentally, and sanguinness is alacrity, although it looks a bit as though someone is sadly lacking a beer. Quel dommage! Nous sommes sans-Guinness!
Sanguineous photo by Aeric Meredith-Goujon.