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I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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11 April 2013

What's the difference between the English language and Anarchy?

A good friend of mine, John Oehrlein (the Tiger Woods of Nakhabino, not only do they both play golf, but...) posted the text below on Farcebook last night. I am simply re-posting it, so to speak, since it is such a wonderful illustration of my message about the English language, which is that you cannot learn it, only practice it. It is pure anarchy, which is why it is so vital and alive. 
     See what you make of the sentences below and the comments that follow. And remember Mitchell's Law: English has no rules only conventions. Thank you, John, for reminding us.

John at the nineteenth hole, so to speak.
He enjoys the odd beer occasionally, like once in every twenty-four hours.

This is John's text:

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce 
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France . Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig..

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people 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, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of 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, an alarm 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 a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. - Why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick' ?


  1. Hi Ian,

    Could you please explain this one: "a wise man and a wise guy are opposites"

    and for the collection (might be well-know, but anyway): the difference is a difference only when it makes a difference

  2. Thank you, Konstantin.

    A "wise man" is just that, a man who is wise. But a "wise guy" is smartarse, a cheeky chappie who behaves as if he knows everything but actually knows nothing. It's a derogatory term, unlike the first, which is a compliment.

    I hope that helps.

  3. Ian is it not also more closely associated, due to the wonders of cinema, to a guy who is an official member of the mafia. Wise Guy!!