Eight Quirks Of The English Language

18 Sep

English is an odd language and I can understand why those trying to learn it sometimes struggle. Despite being a writer, there are still bits I can’t quite get my head around. Here’s eight of my favourites.

1. Why do you frequently hear of people being overwhelmed or underwhelmed by events, but you never hear of them being whelmed? It’s a real word, but I’ve never heard any one use it.

2. Lead (the thing that you use to take your dog for a walk) and lead (the 82nd element on the periodic table are spelt in the same way, yet if you read a scene in a book where a man says ‘Go get your lead!’ to his dog, you know instantly which one its meant to be. I guess, for some words, context is everything.

3. I feel disgruntled every now and then. Does that mean I spend the rest of my time being gruntled? Am I also consolate and combobulated much of the time? If not, how could I ever be disconsolate and discombobulated?

4. If articulate and inarticulate mean the opposite of each other, how come inflammable and flammable mean the same thing?

5. If you follow the examples found in other words, the word Ghoti can be pronounced Fish (think of how you prononce the ‘GH’ in Laugh, the ‘O’ in women and the ‘TI’ in station).

6. My spell-checker keeps suggesting that undead should be changed to unread. Does that mean Microsoft don’t believe in zombies or are they just being rude about people who don’t read much? I know this isn’t technically a quirk of the English language but it always makes me think!

7. If you silently mouth the phrase ‘Elephant Dew’ (as in the small droplets of water you’ll find on elephant first thing in the morning), most people will think you’re saying ‘I Love you’! Try it – although probably best wait until you get home or you might get yourself into trouble if you try it on your colleagues at work … or on random strangers on the bus!.

8. You can unedrsatnd a senetnce eevn if the lteters are jumlbed up in smoe of the wrods. All that matetrs is whehter the fisrt and last letetrs are in the rihgt palce. This dosen’t maen you don’t hvae to wrory abuot proof raednig yuor wrok beofre you pulibsh it thoguh!


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

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4 Responses to “Eight Quirks Of The English Language”

  1. grinningbear1980 18/09/2013 at 15:27 #

    I’ve always been fascinated by number 8. I have met a couple people who can’t read that tho.

    • cmdrysdale 18/09/2013 at 17:09 #

      That’s interesting, I hadn’t come across people who couldn’t still read jumbled up words. However, it doesn’t really surprise me as there seems to be several fundamentally different (and incompatible) ways that people read, which makes forcing all kids to learn to read in the exactly the same way in schools counter-productive for at least some of them because that’s just not how their brains are wired

  2. Pippa DaCosta 19/09/2013 at 09:31 #

    I love number 8. It’s intriguing.

    • cmdrysdale 19/09/2013 at 10:53 #

      Yes, it is intriguing. I think it comes from the fact that we recognise words by their shapes rather than their individual letters. You’ll notice that this works better if your transpose small letters (e.g. a, o, u, e, etc) with each other than if you transpose them with tall letterss (e.g. d, p, b, h, etc). This is because it has the smallest effect on the overall shape of the word. That’s my thoughts on why this works at any rate.

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