This is nasty.

Although I am, to quote an old Sandra Boynton gag, “eruditer than you” (or at least most), I still found reading through the composition quoted below involved more than a handful of false starts and reversals. Via Making Light, via a comment quite a way down the thread about the sudden emergence of the word “whinge” instead of “whine” amongst citizens of the USA online.

Some USAns at ML purported to find “whinge” usage as “affected” as a means to sound “posh”, an argument which falls oddly upon an ear which knows the word’s origins as far removed from any part of British society which might be so described. (For the USAns playing along at home, “whinge” is part of the Northern English dialect, and when used by middle class Oxbridge alumni, such as the Monty Python mob, is an example of verbal “slumming” amidst a more colourful vernacular than that which their tutors would have approved.)

English pronunciation test
While most of you non-native speakers of English speak English quite well, there is always room for improvement (of course, the same could be said for every person for any subject, but that is another matter). To that end, I’d like to offer you a poem. Once you’ve learned to correctly pronounce every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world.

If you find it tough going, do not despair, you are not alone: Multi-national personnel at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters near Paris found English to be an easy language … until they tried to pronounce it. To help them discard an array of accents, the verses below were devised. After trying them, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months at hard labor to reading six lines aloud. Try them yourself.

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.
Foeffer 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!!!

(Apparently excerpted from The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité.)

Quote above reproduced from this site.

There is a certain authoritarian and conservative streak to English spelling which Noah Webster, to name but one, attempted to curtail. There have been repeated waves of English spelling reform movements for several centuries now. Let’s apply some suggestions to the last paragraph quoted above:

Finally, which rhymes with enuff —
Thowe, throo, plow, or dowe, or coff?
Hiccup has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Right. I’m so used to our idiosynchratic spelling, incorporating so much of the different conquerors’ languages which swept the British Isles, that unless I read a poem like this I hardly see it. It really is bloody weird though, yes?



Categories: Culture, fun & hobbies, Sociology

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13 replies

  1. “Some USAns at ML purported to find ‘whinge’ usage as ‘affected’ as a means to sound ‘posh’”
    I hate that Americans use British slang to sound cool, it’s so annoying to me for some reason, and because I’ve started reading so many UK feminist blogs lately, I’m biting my tongue to avoid sounding like Madonna! It’s probably cultural conditioning or something, but there’s just something about UK and former/current Commonwealth accents (Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.)

  2. I LOVE THAT.
    Although I’ll point out that in some parts of the U.S., “haunt” and “aunt” do rhyme. (Not the part I live in, but it’s a bona fide acceptable pronunciation [in fact, THE acceptable pronunciation] in some regions. I say “ant,” but my Minnesotan boyfriend and several New Englander friends say “awnt.”)
    Also, the four/Arkansas rhyme is quite a bit more of a stretch in most of the U.S. — though not in some parts of the South and, again, New England.
    As for “whinge,” I nearly did a whole Guest Hoyden post about that very thread, but I only got halfway through, accidentally lost most of it, and gave up. I might need to give it another whack.
    Short version (well, short for me): ANY Britishism that’s still identifiably a Britishism, no matter its class origin, sounds “pretentious” coming from American lips — mostly because the kind of people who use Britishisms also overuse French phrases and pretend they just can’t think of the English. Here, it’s something people whip out to make themselves sound well-traveled and erudite; the fact that many Americans won’t recognize the phrase is exactly WHY they use it. Barf.
    I struggle with it, because I lived almost half my life in Canada, where some Britishisms (though not all, and not “whinge”) are just a normal part of everyday language, so you don’t sound like a pretentious fool when you use them. Hence my frequent use of “bloody” — which still sounds pretentious in the U.S., even though it’s obviously well known here — and the occasional “arse.” (“Arse” is acceptable in Canada, yet “arsehole” is pushing it; an asshole’s an asshole in all of Anglophone North America.)
    The internet is certainly making slang cross-contamination happen more swiftly, which I love — but over here, almost any chiefly British phrase must still pass through the pretentiousness filter before becoming normalized. Occasionally, one will pass right through for lack of an equally satisfying synonym in American English (“shirty,” off the top of my head), but most do not. I desperately want license to use “chuffed,” because there’s no precise equivalent over here — but since there are words that come close enough, I’d still sound like a tool who reads too much Hoyden About Town if I started.
    I live for this shit. If you couldn’t tell.

  3. Although I’ll point out that in some parts of the U.S., ‘haunt’ and ‘aunt’ do rhyme. (Not the part I live in, but it’s a bona fide acceptable pronunciation [in fact, THE acceptable pronunciation] in some regions. I say ‘ant’ but my Minnesotan boyfriend and several New Englander friends say ‘awnt’)

    In oz, I have heard some people say “aunt” as “ant”, but the usual Oz (and usual BritEng, in my experience), is “arnt” (usually “arntie”). Never heard anyone say “awnt”. Cool.
    I found it interesting in the ML thread how many people thought that words (whinge, chuffed) were Australianisms rather than regional Britishisms (which is of course where us Aussies got ‘em from). I was hugely surprised that what I had always considered a quintessential British boarding school word, “nosh”, was actually from Yiddish.

  4. what I had always considered a quintessential British boarding school word, ‘nosh’, was actually from Yiddish.

    Where did “tucker” come from? I know, I know, I could look it up, but it’s far more fun to talk about it here.

  5. Before I go and look it up, I’m going to plump for one of the ‘sets (Dorset, Somerset etc), although another part of me wants to go with Irish.

  6. I found it interesting in the ML thread how many people thought that words (whinge, chuffed) were Australianisms rather than regional Britishisms (which is of course where us Aussies got ‘em from).
    Yeah, I tend to assume that most Australianisms are Britishisms, though I’m sure you have a lot of indigenous slang I’ve never heard. I definitely classified “chuffed” as British, though you’re the person on my daily reading list who uses it most frequently, hence my comment to that effect.
    (And since everyone’s telling “whinge” stories, I first heard it from my Irish brother-in-law, with regard to my first nephew.)
    I was hugely surprised that what I had always considered a quintessential British boarding school word, ‘nosh’, was actually from Yiddish.
    That’s funny to me, because I hear “nosh” and immediately think of Jewish deli menus — no British boarding school associations whatsoever.
    Eagerly awaiting word on the origins of “tucker.”

  7. Oh, also, I suspect that “arnt” (which sounds exactly like “aren’t” in my head) doesn’t sound too far off from what I think of as “awnt” if one has an accent in which Rs aren’t pronounced distinctly.

  8. I haven’t been able to find what I would consider an authoritative etymology for “tucker”, but it seems to derive from Middle English “tukken” via Middle German or summat.
    Which reminds me:
    English is the result of Norman men-at-arms attempting to pick up Saxon barmaids and is no more legitimate than any of the other results. – H. Beam Piper

  9. Also, I’m plumb tuckered out after a spot of intensive gardening (it’s green bin night tonight).

  10. Kate H used ‘barf’, which reminded me that we have, oh, approximately 700,000 slang words for vomit. This is possibly to do with a gruesome love of colourful language, but also, sadly, the heroism associated with drinking far too much and bringing it back up again.
    This is, after all, the country that gave music the lyric:
    I come from a land downunder,
    Where women glow, and men chunder.

  11. Where women glow, and men chunder.
    THAT’S what he was saying? All these years, I could never figure that out.

  12. It’s “Where women go and men chunder”. Another meaning entirely.
    Anyway, before Men At Work, kates, there was Barry McKenzie.

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