Saturday, November 13, 2010

You think English is easy?

Most of what appears here comes from material encountered when I was growing up. Most, but not all. I recently received the material below in an email, obviously doing the rounds.

I have included it because it neatly captures some of the foibles of our language which underlay much of the humour I did (and still do) enjoy.

  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?

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.

Oh, and why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick'?

Sunday, September 19, 2010


by John Lennon, 1965

I find it recornered in my nosebook that it was a dokey and winnie dave towart the end of Marge in the ear of our Loaf 1892 in Much Bladder, a city off the North Wold. Shamrock Womlbs had receeded a telephart whilst we sat at our lunch eating. He made no remark but the matter ran down his head, for he stud in front of the fire with a thoughtfowl face, smirking his pile, and casting an occasional gland at the massage. Quite sydney without warping he turd upod me with a miscarriage twinkle in his isle.

'Ellifitzgerrald my dear Whopper,' he grimmond then sharply 'Guess whom has broken out of jail Whopper?' My mind immediately recoughed all the caramels that had recently escaped or escaped from Wormy Scabs.

'Eric Morley?' I ventured. He shook his bed. 'Oxo Whitney?' I queered, he knotted in the infirmary. 'Rygo Hargraves?' I winston agreably.

'No, my dear Whopper, it's OXO WHITNEY' he bellowed as if I was in another room, and I wasn't.

'How d'you know Womlbs? ' I whispered excretely.

'Harrybellafonte, my dear Whopper.' At that precise morman a tall rather angularce tall thin man knocked on the door. 'By all accounts that must be he, Whopper.' I marvelled at his acute osbert lancaster.

'How on urge do you know Womlbs' f asped, revealing my bad armchair.

'Eliphantitus my deaf Whopper' he baggage knocking out his pip on his large leather leg. In warped the favourite Oxo Whitney none the worse for worms.

'I'm an escaped primrose Mr Womlbs' he grate darting franetically about the room.

'Calm down Mr Whitney! ' I interpolled 'or you'll have a nervous breadvan.'

'You must be Doctored Whopper' he pharted. My friend was starving at Whitney with a strange hook on his eager face, that tightening of the lips, that quiver of the nostriches and constapation of the heavy tufted brows which I knew so well.

'Gorra ciggie Oxo' said Womlbs quickly. I looked at my colledge, hoping for some clue as to the reason for this sodden outboard, he gave me no sign except a slight movement of his good leg as he kicked Oxo Whitney to the floor. 'Gorra ciggie Oxo' he reapeted almouth hysterically.

'What on urn are you doing my dear Womlbs' I imply; 'nay I besiege you, stop lest you do this poor wretch an injury! '

'Shut yer face yer blubbering owld get' screamed Womlbs like a man fermented, and laid into Mr Whitney something powerful wat. This wasn't not the Shamrock Womlbs I used to nose, I thought puzzled and hearn at this suddy change in my
old friend.

Mary Atkins pruned herselves in the mirage, running her hand wantanly through her large blond hair. Her tight dress was cut low revealingly three or four blackheads, carefully scrubbed on her chess. She addled the final touches to her makeup and fixed her teeth firmly in her head. 'He's going to want me tonight' she thought and pictured his hamsome black curly face and jaundice. She looked at her clocks impatiently and went to the window, then leapt into her favorite armchurch, picking up the paper she glassed at the headlines. 'MORE NEGOES IN THE CONGO' it read, and there was, but it was the Stop Press which corked her eye. 'JACK THE NIPPLE STRIKE AGAIN.' She went cold all over, it was Sydnees and he'd left the door open.

'Hello lover' he said slapping her on the butter.

'Oh you did give me a start Sydnees' she shrieked laughing arf arfily.

'I always do my love' he replied jumping on all fours. She joined him and they galloffed quickly downstairs into a harrased cab. 'Follow that calf' yelped Sydnees pointing a rude fingure.

'White hole mate! ' said the scabbie.

'Why are we bellowing that card Sydnees? ' inquired Mary fashionably.

'He might know where the party' explained Sydnees.

'Oh I see' said Mary looking up at him as if to say.

The journey parssed pleasantly enough with Sydnees and Mary pointing out places of interest to the scab driver; such as Buckinghell Parcel, the Horses of Parliamint, the Chasing of the Guards. One place of particularge interest was the Statue of Eric in Picanniny Surplass.

'They say that if you stand there long enough you'll meet a friend' said Sydnees knowingly, 'that's if your not run over.'

'God Save the Queens' shouted the scabbie as they passed the Parcel for maybe the fourth time.

'Jack the Nipple' said Womlbs puffing deeply on his wife, 'is not only a vicious murderer but a sex meany of the lowest orgy.' Then my steamed collic relit his pig and walkered to the windy of his famous flat in Bugger St in London where it all happened. I pondled on his statemouth for a mormon then turding sharply I said. 'But how do you know Womlbs? '

'Alibabba my dead Whopper, I have seen the film' I knew him toby right for I had only read the comic.

That evenig we had an unexpeckled visitor, Inspectre Basil, I knew him by his tell-tale unicorn.

'Ah Inspectre Basil mon cher amie' said Womlbs spotting him at once. 'What brings you to our humble rich establishment?'

'I come on behave of thousands' the Inspectre said sitting quietly on his operation.

'I feel l know why you are here Basil' said Womlbs eyeing he leg. 'It's about Jock the Cripple is it not?' The Jnspectre smiled smiling.

'How did you guess? ' I inquired all puzzle.

'Alecguiness my deep Whopper, the mud on the Inspectre's left, and also the buttock on his waistbox is misting.'

The Inspectre looked astoundagast and fidgeted nervously from one fat to the other. 'You neville sieze to amass me Mr Womlbs.'

'A drink genitalmen' I ventured, 'before we get down to the businose in hand in hand?' They both knotted in egremont and I went to the cocky cabinet. 'What would you prepare Basil, Bordom '83 or? '

'I'd rather have rather have rather' said the Inspectre who was a gourmless. After a drink and a few sam leeches Womlbs got up and paced the floor up and down up and down pacing.

'Why are you pacing the floor up and down up and down pacing dear Womlbs' I inquiet.

'I'm thinking alowed my deaf Whopper.' I looked over at the Inspectre and knew that he couldn't hear him either.

'Guess who's out of jail Mr Womlbs' the Inspectre said subbenly. Womlbs looked at me knowingly.

'Eric Morley?' I asked, they shook their heaths. 'Oxo Whitney?' I quart, again they shoot their heaps. 'Rygo Hargraves?' I wimpied.

'No my dear Whopper, OXO WHITNEY!' shouted Womlbs leaping to his foot. I loked at him admiring this great man all the morphia.

Meanwire in a ghasly lit street in Chelthea, a darkly clocked man with a fearful weapon, creeped about serging for revenge on the women of the streets for giving him the dreadfoot V.D. (Valentine Dyall). 'I'll kill them all womb by womb' he muffled between scenes. He was like a black shadow or negro on that dumb foggy night as he furtively looked for his neck victim. His minds wandered back to his childhook, remembering a vague thing or two like his mother and farmer and how they had beaten him for eating his sister. 'I'm demented' he said checking his dictionary, 'I should bean at home on a knife like these.' He turned into a dim darky and spotted a light.

Mary Atkins pruned herselves in the mirrage running her hand wantanly through her large blond hair. Her tight dress was cut low revealingly three or four more blackheads carefully scrubbed on her chess. Business had been bad lately and what with the cost of limping. She hurriedly tucked in her gooseberries and opened the door. 'No wonder business is bad' she remarked as she caught size of her hump in the hall mirror. 'My warts are showing.' With a carefree yodel she slept into the street and caught a cab to her happy humping grounds. 'That Sydnees's nothing but a pimple living on me thus' she thought 'lazing about day in day off, and here's me plowing my train up and down like Soft Arthur and you know how soft Arthur.' She got off as uterus at Nats Cafe and took up her position.

'They'll never even see me in this fog' she muttered switching on her lamps. Just then a blasted Policemat walked by. 'Blasted Policemat' she shouted, but luckily he was deaf. 'Blasted deaf Policemat' she shouted. 'Why don't yer gerra job!'

Little did she gnome that the infamous Jack the Nipple was only a few streets away. 'I hope that blasted Jack the Nipple isn't only a few streets away,' she said, 'he's not right in the heads.'

'How much lady' a voice shocked her from the doorways of Nats. Lucky for him there was a sale on so. they soon retched an agreament. A very high class genderman she thought as they walked quickly together down the now famous Carringto Average.

'I tell yer she whore a good woman Mr Womlbs sir' said Sydnees Aspinall.

'I quite believe you Mr Asterpoll, after all you knew her better than me and dear old buddy friend Whopper, but we are not here to discuss her merits good or otherwives, we are here, Mr Asronaute, to discover as much information as we can about the unfortunate and untidy death of Mary Atkins.' Womlbs looked the man in the face effortlessly.

'The name's Aspinall guvnor' said the wretched man.

'I'm deleware of your name Mr Astracan.' Womlbs said looking as if he was going to smash him.

'Well as long as you know,' said Aspinall wishing he'd gone to Safely Safely Sunday Trip. Womlbs took down the entrails from Aspinall as quickly as he could, I could see that they weren't on the same waveleg.

'The thing that puddles me Womlbs,' I said when we were alone, 'is what happened to Oxo Whitney? ' Womlbs looged at me intently, I could see that great mind was thinking as his tufted eyepencil knit toboggen, his strong jew jutted out, his nosepack flared, and the limes on his furheads wrinkled.

'That's a question Whopper.' he said and I marveled at his grammer. Next day Womlbs was up at the crack of dorchester, he didn't evening look at the moaning papers. As yewtree I fixed his breakfat of bogard, a gottle of geer, a slice of jewish bread, three eggs with little liars on, two rashes of bacon, a bowel of Rice Krustchovs, a fresh grapeful, mushrudes, some freed tomorrows, a basket of fruits, and a cup of teens.

'Breakfeet are ready' I showbody 'It's on the table.' But to my supplies he'd already gone. 'Blast the wicker basket yer grannie sleeps in.' I thought 'Only kidding Shamrock' I said remembering his habit of hiding in the cupboard.

That day was an anxious one for me as I waited for news of my dear friend, I became fretful and couldn't finish my Kennomeat, it wasn't like Shamrock to leave me here all by my own, lonely; without him I was at large. I rang up a few close itamate friends but they didn't know either, even Inspectre Basil didn't know, and if anybody should know, Inspectre Basil should 'cause he's a Police. I was a week lately when I saw him again and I was shocked by his apeerless, he was a dishovelled rock.

'My God Womlbs' I cried 'My God, what on earth have you been?'

'All in good time Whopper' he trousered. 'Wait till I get my breast back.'

I poked the fire and warmed his kippers, when he had mini-coopered he told me a story which to this day I can't remember.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fables For Our Times # 7

The Moth and The Star

James Thurber, from Fables for Our Time. New York, 1940

Fables - The MothAndStarA YOUNG and impressionable moth once set his heart on a certain star. He told his mother about this and she counseled him to set his heart on a bridge lamp instead. "Stars aren’t the thing to hang around," she said; "lamps are the thing to hang around." "You get somewhere that way," said the moth's father. "You don’t get anywhere chasing stars." But the moth would not heed the words of either parent. Every evening at dusk when the star came out he would start flying toward it and every morning at dawn he would crawl back home worn out with his vain endeavor. One day his father said to him, "You haven’t burned a wing in months, boy, and it looks to me as if you were never going to. All your brothers have been badly burned flying around street lamps and all your sisters have been terribly singed flying around house lamps. Come on, now, get out of here and get yourself scorched! A big strapping moth like you without a mark on him!"

The moth left his father's house, but he would not fly around Street lamps and he would not fly around house lamps. He went right on trying to reach the star, which was four and one-third light years, or twenty-five trillion miles, away. The moth thought it was just caught in the top branches of an elm. He never did reach the star, but he went right on trying, night after night, and when he was a very, very old moth he began to think that he really had reached the star and he went around saying so. This gave him a deep and lasting pleasure, and he lived to a great old age. His parents and his brothers and his sisters had all been burned to death when they were quite young.

Moral: Who flies afar from the sphere of our sorrow is here today and here tomorrow.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Car We Had to Push

James Thurber, from A Thurber Carnival

The Car We Had To Push001-webMANY autobiographers, among them Lincoln Steffens and Gertrude Atherton, described earthquakes their families have been in. I am unable to do this because my family was never in an earthquake, but we went through a number of things in Columbus that were a great deal like earthquakes. I remember in particular some of the repercussions of an old Reo we had that wouldn’t go unless you pushed it for quite a way and suddenly let your clutch out. Once, we had been able to start the engine easily by cranking it, but we had had the car for so many years that finally it wouldn’t go unless you pushed it and let your clutch out. Of course, it took more than one person to do this; it took sometimes as many as five or six, depending on the grade of the roadway and conditions underfoot. The car was unusual in that the clutch and brake were on the same pedal making it quite easy to stall the engine after it got started, so that the car would have to be pushed again.

My father used to get sick at his stomach pushing the car, and very often was unable to go to work. He had never liked the machine, even when it was good, sharing my ignorance and suspicion: of all automobiles of twenty years ago and longer. The boys I went to school with used to be able to identify every car as it passed by: Thomas Flyer, Firestone-Columbus, Stevens Duryea, Rambler, Winton, White Steamer, etc. I never could. The only car I was really interested in was one that the Get- Ready Man, as we called him, rode around town in: a big Red Devil with a door in the back. The Get-Ready Man was a lank unkempt elderly gentleman with wild eyes and a deep voice who used to go about shouting at people through a megaphone to prepare for the end of the world. ‘GET READY! GET READY!” he would bellow. “THE WORLLLD IS COMING TO AN END!” His startling exhortations would come up, like summer thunder, at the most unexpected times and in the most surprising places. I remember once during Mantell’s production of “King Lear” at the Colonial Theatre, that the Get-Ready Man added his bawlings to the squealing of Edgar and the ranting of the King and the mouthing of the Fool, rising from somewhere in the balcony to join in. The theatre was in absolute darkness and there were rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning offstage. Neither father nor I, who were there; ever completely got over the scene, which went something like this:

Edgar: Tom’s a-cold. - O, do ae, do de, do de! - Bless thee from whirlwinds, star-blasting, and taking . . . the foul fiend vexes!
(Thunder off)< br />Lear: What! Have his daughters brought him to this pass?
Get-Ready Man: Get ready! Get ready!
The Car We Had To Push002-webEdgar: Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill:
Halloo! halloo, loo, loo! (Lightning flashes)
Get-Ready Man: The Worllld is coming to an End!
Fool: This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen!
Edgar: Take heed o’ the foul fiend: obey thy parents
Get-Ready Man: Get Rea-dy!
Edgar: Tom’s a-cold!
Get-Ready Man: The Worrld is coming to an end!

They found him finally, and ejected him, still shouting. The Theatre, in our time, has known few such moments.

But to get back to the automobile. One of my happiest memories of it was when, in its eighth year, my brother Roy got together a great many articles from the kitchen, placed them in a square of canvas, and swung this under the car with a string attached to it so that, at a twitch, the canvas would give way and the steel and tin things would clatter to the street. This was a little scheme of Roy’s to frighten father who had always expected the car might explode. It worked perfectly. That was twenty-five years ago, but it is one of the few things in my life I would like to live over again if I could. I don’t suppose that I can, now. Roy twitched the string in the middle of a lovely afternoon, on Bryden Road near Eighteenth Street. Father had closed his eyes and, with his hat off, was enjoying a cool breeze. The clatter on the asphalt was tremendously effective: knives, forks, can-openers, pie pans, pot lids, biscuit-cutters, ladles, egg- beaters fell, beautifully together, in a lingering, clamant crash. “Stop the car!” shouted father. “I can’t,” Roy said. “The engine fell out.” “God Almighty!” said father, who knew what that meant, or knew what it sounded as if it might mean.

It ended unhappily, of course, because we finally had to drive back and pick up the stuff and even father knew the difference between the works of an automobile and the equipment of a pantry. My mother wouldn’t have known, however, nor her mother. Mother, for instance, thought - or, rather, knew - that it was dangerous to drive an automobile without gasoline: it fried the salves, or something. “Now don’t you dare drive all over town without gasoline!” she would say to us when we started off. Gasoline, oil, and water were much the same to her, a fact that made her life both confusing and perilous. Her greatest dread, however, was the Victrola - we had a very early one, back in the “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine” days. She had an idea that the Victrola might blow up. It alarmed her, rather than reassured her, to explain that the phonograph was run neither by gasoline nor by electricity. She could only suppose that it was propelled by some newfangled and untested apparatus which was likely to let go at any minute, making us all the victims and martyrs of the wild-eyed Edison’s dangerous experiments.

The Car We Had To Push003-webThe telephone she was comparatively at peace with, except, of course, during storms, when for some reason or other she always took the receiver off the hook and let it hang. She came naturally by her confused and groundless, fears, for her own mother lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house. It leaked, she contended, out of empty sockets if the wall switch had been left on. She would go around screwing in bulbs, and if they lighted up she would hastily and fearfully turn off the wall switch and go back to her Pearson’s or Everybody’s, happy in the satisfaction that she had stopped not only a costly but a dangerous leakage. Nothing could ever clear this up for her.

Our poor old Reo came to a horrible end, finally. We had parked it too far from the curb on a street with a car line: It was late at night and the street was dark. The first streetcar that came along couldn’t get by. It picked up the tired old automobile as a terrier might seize a rabbit and drubbed it unmercifully, losing its hold now and then but catching a new grip a second later. Tires booped and whooshed, the fenders queeled and graked, the steering-wheel rose up like a spectre and disappeared in the direction of Franklin Avenue with a melancholy whistling sound, bolts and gadgets flew like sparks from a Catherine wheel. It was a splendid spectacle but, of course, saddening to everybody (except the motorman of the streetcar, who was sore). I think some of us broke down and wept. It must have been the weeping that caused grandfather to .take on so terribly. Time was all mixed up in his mind; automobiles and the like he never remembered having seen. He apparently gathered, from the talk and excitement and weeping, that somebody had died. Nor did he let go of this delusion. He insisted, in fact, after almost a week in which we strove mightily to divert him, but it was a sin and a shame and a disgrace on the family to put the funeral off any longer. “Nobody is dead! The automobile is smashed!” shouted my father, trying for the thirtieth time to explain the situation to the old man. “A1as he drunk?” demanded grandfather, sternly. “Was who drunk?” asked father. “Zenas,” said grandfather. He had a name for the corpse now: it was his brother Zenas, who, as it happened, was dead, but not from driving an automobile while intoxicated. Zenas had died in 1866. A sensitive, rather poetical boy of twenty-one when the Civil War broke out, Zenas had gone to South America - just,” as he wrote back, “until it blows over.” Returning after the war had blown over, he caught the same disease that was killing off the chestnut trees in those years, and passed away. It was the only case in history where a tree doctor had to be called in to spray a person, and our family had felt it very keenly; nobody else in the United States caught the blight. Some of us have looked upon Zenas’ fate as a kind of poetic justice.

The Car We Had To Push004-webNow that grandfather knew, so to speak, who was dead, it became increasingly awkward to go on living in the same house with him as if nothing had happened. He would go into towering rages in which he threatened to write to the Board of Health unless the funeral were held at once. We realized that something had to be done. Eventually, we persuaded a friend of father’s, named George Martin, to dress up in the manner and costume of the eighteen-sixties and pretend to be Uncle Zenas, in order to set grandfather’s mind at rest. The impostor looked fine and impressive in sideburns and a high beaver hat, and not unlike the daguerreotypes of Zenas in our album. I shall never forget the night, just after dinner, when this Zenas walked into the living- room. Grandfather was stomping lip and down, tall, hawk-nosed, round-oathed. The newcomer held out both his hands. “Clem!” he cried to grandfather. Grandfather turned slowly, baked at the intruder, and snorted. “Who air you?” he demanded in his deep, resonant voice. “I’m Zenas!” cried Martin. “Your brother Zenas, fit as a fiddle and sound as a dollar!” “Zenas, my foot!” said grandfather. “Zenas died of the chestnut blight in "66!"

Grandfather was given to these sudden, unexpected, and extremely lucid moments; they were generally more embarrassing than his other moments. He comprehended before he went to bed that night that the old automobile had been destroyed and that its destruction had caused all the turmoil in the house. “It flew all to pieces, Pa,” my mother told him, in graphically describing the accident. “I knew ‘twould,” growled grandfather. “I allus told ye to git a Pope-Toledo.”