Monday, February 5, 2018

Oh the English Language!

The other day, I came across a phrase that reminded me how confusing and completely illogical the English language is. (I'm sure I'm not the only one who has thought that!) My mind started working, and I came up with a few more examples on the spot.

Then I thought, "How entertaining would it be to share these with my readers?" So I complied several more and wrote a fun post for you. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. If English is your second language, I'm curious to hear what you think of all this, as well as if there are any similar words/phrases in your native language.

Here goes...
The word desert (abandon) sounds like dessert (a meal of sweets), but it's spelled like desert (a sandy place.)

Women is the plural of woman. The second syllables are spelled differently but typically pronounced the same ("min"). The first syllables are spelled the same but pronounced slightly different.

A feather is light. When I enter a dark room, I turn on a light. And when I want to start a fire, I light a match.

A toothbrush really should be a teethbrush, unless you have a separate toothbrush for each of your teeth.

Through doesn't rhyme with though, tough, enough, cough, or dough, but the endings are all the same. Go figure...

If someone tells you that you're "barking up the wrong tree," they're probably trying to say that you aren't pursuing the right course of action. Perhaps that saying has something to do with the fact that a tree is covered in bark and that when a dog chases a squirrel up a tree, it often stands at the bottom and barks. Still quite confusing, though.

The following few sentences might make your head spin, but they would make complete sense when spoken by a child during school: "I really dislike math. I just don't understand why my teacher would subject me to such a terrible subject. I would rather be in art class. I'm hoping to be the subject of my friend's painting, but that decision will be subject to my teacher's approval."

When you ask someone, "What's up?" the answer should be "the sky" or "the ceiling," but the response you'll likely receive is "Not too much."

Asking someone to give you the low down (give me the details) is pretty much the opposite of asking them to keep something on the down low (keep it a secret).

You smell with your nose and run with your feet, but your nose also runs, and your feet also smell.

Now, let's talk about food...
Pineapple does not contain pine or apples. (But the rest of the world seems to understand that, as the word pineapple is "ananas" in most other languages.)

There's no egg in eggplant, nor do eggs grow on plants.

Polish sausage is delicious, but shoe polish isn't edible.

There's no ham in a hamburger. Ham comes from a pig, while a hamburger is made of ground beef, so the two aren't even from the same animal.


  1. Anonymous2/05/2018

    You have to consider etymology, morphology, phonology, semantics, and all aspects of linguistics when you talk about the English language. There are logical reasons, usually buried in history, why words are used, spelled, and pronounced the way they are.

  2. I've been pondering every since I learned why in the world is "colonel" pronounced " kernel"?

    Why is the plural of box "boxes" and fox "foxes" but the plural of ox is "oxen"?

    Our English language really can be confusing!

  3. Anonymous2/05/2018

    There's a lot of weird stuff in other languages too. I always thought it was weird that "pomme" means apple in French. "Pomme de terre" is a potato, and literally translates to apple of the earth. A potato is nothing like an apple?!

    1. Anonymous2/06/2018

      Actually when a potato isn't cooked it quite similar to an apple that comes from the earth...

    2. Anonymous2/07/2018

      In Germany we also have the word "Erdapfel" (Erde=earth and Apfel=Apple)It is mostly used in Bavaria.

    3. Anonymous2/08/2018

      Same is true in for the Dutch language (which is closely related to German). Aardappel also means earth apple.

  4. Anonymous2/05/2018

    I've always been humored that we park in driveways and drive on parkways. Also, you recite in a play but play in a recital.

  5. Anonymous2/05/2018

    “I’m down” and “I’m up” mean the same thing! “Anybody up to go to a movie?” “I’m down!”

  6. Anonymous2/05/2018

    People say “yeah no” or “no yeah” to both mean both “yes” and “no!”

  7. Anonymous2/05/2018

    We literally say “look it!” to get someone to look at something.

  8. Anonymous2/06/2018

    We say “isn’t” and “aren’t” but not “amn’t.” I know this one because my brother used to say “I amn’t” instead of “I’m not” as a toddler!

  9. And this is why I am strict on following the proper rules when it comes to English grammar.
    Please post more of these soon, Ellie.

  10. Anonymous2/06/2018

    Though Dutch is my native language, I can dream in English should the need arise. Dutch has words as well that can have two entirely different meanings and there are words that spelled differently but have the same sound. I still vividly remember one from the Muppet show which is funny both in Dutch and in English. In one of the shows the following phrase is used: Flower for the frog, but the instead of a flower a sack of flour is poured over Kermits head. The Dutch word 'bloem' means both flour and flower so in this case the joke translated quite well.

  11. Anonymous2/06/2018

    Hi! English is my second language and the only expressions I didn't know were "low down" and "down low".
    Perhaps I can be of help with a couple of the words you mentioned. :)

    "Dessert" is actually a french word, therefore it has nothing to do with "desert".
    "Desert as "abandon" comes from "desert" as "a sandy place", because the sandy place is also always solitary, when you think of a desert you think of endless sand without a living soul.

    "Hamburger" doesn't have anything to do with ham because it's german and it comes from the city of Hamburg. "Hamburger" literally means "of Hamburg", or "from Hamburg", which suggests that the dish we all know was originally from there, or at least was a typical local dish in Hamburg.

    1. Anonymous2/10/2018

      Interesting, anon! Yes, I can see "desert", as in abandon, coming from "the desert", where there is no one around. I knew about Hamburg, too, and knew the phrase "low down", but had never heard of "down low".

  12. Anonymous2/06/2018

    We Welcome someone into our house but when someone thanks us we say “you’re welcome”

    A mug is a cup. A shot is a vaccine, or a form of shooting with a weapon or when taking a picture. A mug shot is the picture taken of someone that got booked in jail...????

    1. Anonymous2/07/2018

      It’s called a mugshot because a mug is also a face.

  13. When I see stuff like this, it's a good reminder to never look down upon anyone who's speaking broken English. That they can speak their native language and are taking on the most irregular, confusing language as a second (or third or fourth) one proves they're not only intelligent but brave and determined!

  14. Anonymous2/06/2018

    A cook cooks, but a dentist doesn't dentist.

  15. Anonymous2/06/2018

    I bet most folks are wondering what those words are. Shout out to all of the speech pathologists. Represent!

  16. Anonymous2/07/2018

    Hitting your funny bone isn't funny, it hurts...Jane

  17. Your observation on women vs woman seems to be more of a regional difference. My mom is from the South and many words were pronounced differently due to accent rather than proper phonetics. We studied Ukrainian as part of a military assignment & despite the different alphabet & characters, it's completely phonetic with very few exceptions; those learning English as a second language have my utmost respect.

    1. Anonymous2/12/2018

      You know, English is my second language and, though I do remember a time in which I didn't know it well - I literally didn't know what to say when I had to speak in middle school - then I studied it properly and didn't have many difficulties with spelling or stuff like that.
      I'm Italian and here, as in the other main european countries, we are used to study grammar and language really hard, especially in the first few years of school. It depends, obviously, on whether you go to a good school or not, and whether your teacher is good, but we have an excellent school system.
      Homeschooling, for example, isn't a thing here: it's just for child actors, normal people go to school, where they are taught by professionals. We have homework every day and generally study hard.
      English is a very simple language. Of course you have to study it, you don't improvise, but it doesn't have many very sophisticated words, it's very practical. Someone invents a new object; in a while you'll see that there will be a new verb coming from that new substantive.

  18. Anonymous2/07/2018

    Here is poem that I always share with my second grade students each year:

    English in a Pain(Pane)

    Rain, reign, rein,

    English is a pain.
    Although the words
    sound just alike,
    the spelling’s not the same!

    Bee, be, B,
    I’d rather climb a tree
    than learn to spell
    the same old word
    not just one way, but three!

    Sight, site, cite,
    I try with all my might.
    No matter which
    I choose,
    it’s not the one that’s right!

    There, their, they’re,
    I almost just don’t care.
    Too many ways
    to write one sound,
    I just don’t think it’s fair!

    To, two, too,
    so what’s a kid to do?
    I think I’ll go
    to live on Mars
    and leave this mess with ewe!(you?)

    by Shirlee Curlee Bingham

    1. Thanks, I'll share this with my kids since my 7-year-old just pointed out some homonyms yesterday (whole and hole).


  20. Anonymous2/09/2018

    My tongue can't get the sounds of fuel and fool to come out right. Try it. For fuel, you have to pretend you're saying "few" with a L on the end and for fool, I have to think of saying the oo as ewwwww. Idk, I have to always think what's the right way to say these words before I say them. If any of you out there has learned English as a secondary language, I offer my hearty Congratulations!!! It must've been by sheer determination!!

  21. Anonymous2/09/2018

    I agree that this is entertaining! More than that it is a topic that at times is necessary to go over. Adding more examples expands the analysis. So here is one that came up today 'implicitly' because the dictionary gives one word meanings at the opposite ends of the spectrum:
    1. implied, rather than expressly stated: implicit agreement.
    2. unquestioning or unreserved; absolute: implicit trust; implicit obedience; implicit confidence.
    Go figure!

  22. Anonymous2/10/2018

    Well done, Ellie! These are great! -Marge

  23. Anonymous2/14/2018

    This is interesting, enjoyed reading! I like different languages and English is not my native tongue. There are many words in my native tongue that have different meanings. And as our grammar is really irregular, I find it funny that you think English is really hard to learn. It's actually quite simple and logical compared to my mother tongue :) we have tons of different ways to conjugate nouns and verbs. It's like my French teacher used to say, "You have to know it by heart."

    PS. You got a new reader from Europe by this post. Please write about language stuff again sometimes :)

    1. I'm glad to have you as a reader! If you don't mind me asking, what's your native tongue? Is it French?


  24. Hamburger: The word has nothing to do with ham because the name originates from "Hamburg", one of Germanys largest cities.

    I quote Wikipedia: The term hamburger originally derives from Hamburg, Germany's second-largest city. In German, Burg means "castle", "fortified settlement" or "fortified refuge" and is a widespread component of place names.The term "burger", a back-formation, is associated with many different types of sandwiches, similar to a (ground meat) hamburger, but made of different meats.