Why Does My Nose Run and My Foot Smell?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-mother-baby-feet-image28809486I have taught English as a Second (or 3rd or 4th) Language for more than 20 years and I have to say that I love teaching English and never get tired of it.

But it is not easy because the English language is not easy. Native speakers forget that sometimes, but non-native speakers never do.

About 20 years ago I came across and article in the magazine “Reader’s Digest” that I have enjoyed greatly over the years. The article was entitled “Our Crazy Language” and was a condensation of a book by Richard Lederer entitled “Anguished English.” It is a great read if you enjoy literature and English. These are some of the highlights of the Reader’s Digest article, so I guess you could say that this is a condensation of a condensation of the book by Lederer.

I promise you’ll get a chuckle out of this.

English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet. One in every seven human beings can speak it. More than half of the world’s books and three-quarters of international mail are in English. Of all languages, English has the largest vocabulary—perhaps as many as two million words—and one of the noblest bodies of literature.

Nonetheless, let’s face it: English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, neither pine nor apple in pineapple, and no ham in hamburger. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candy, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what other language do people drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? Recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same thing, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? And where are the people who are spring chickens or who actually would hurt a fly? I meet individuals who can cut the mustard and whom I would touch with a ten-foot pole, but I cannot talk about them in English.

You have to marvel at a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which your alarm clock goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, is not really a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up the essay I end it.

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