I love the English language. It’s been very good to me. But it can be a booger too. For example, you know that a slim chance and a fat chance are the same, right? And a wise man and a wise guy don’t mean the same thing?
It’s a crazy language. And those who must learn it as a second language face many strange twists and turns—as do those of us who try to speak and write with something resembling clarity and erudition. So, in the service of all humanity, I offer the following quick list of some of the mysteries of my native language:
10. If oranges are orange, why isn’t the color yellow called “banana?” Or bananas called “yellows?”
9. If writers write and painters paint, why don’t fingers fing? If teachers have taught, why haven’t preachers praught? Why don’t grocers groce?
8. If you throw out some odds and ends, but keep one item, is it an odd or an end?
7. Why is there no other word for “synonym?”
6. How can it be possible that the Oxford English Dictionary has 192 definitions for the word “set?”
5. How is it that your nose can run and your feet can smell?
4. How odd that is it the letters “ough” can be pronounced in eight different ways? (e.g., “A rough-coated, dough-faced ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing and hiccoughing thoughtfully.”)
3. How can your house burn up while it’s burning down, forms are filled out by being filled in, and an alarm that’s gone off is still going on?
2. Why is “you’re a peach” a compliment but “you’re bananas” is an insult?
And, perhaps my favorite mystery of the English language:
1. Why is the word “abbreviation” so long?