Sunday 15 July 2012

Spelling hell: have fun (or not)

No wonder the English language is so very difficult to learn.
I sometimes wonder how we manage to communicate at all!

We’ll begin with a box and the plural is boxes.
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.

The one fowl is a goose but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may found a lone mouse or a whole set of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?

If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why should not the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural wouldn’t be hose.
And the plural of cat is cats and not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say Mother, we never say Methren,

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim,

So English, I fancy you will all agree,
Is the funniest language you ever did see.


I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -
For goodness sake don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart -
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I'd mastered it when I was five!

Quoted by Vivian Cook and Melvin Bragg 2004,
by Richard Krogh, in D Bolinger & D A Sears, Aspects of Language, 1981,
and in Spelling Progress Bulletin March 1961, Brush up on your English.

The classic spelling poem is Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité, published by SSS in J17.

Our Strange Lingo
When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose,and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone -
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don't agree.

This was written by Lord Cromer, published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902
and extracts were quoted in an SSS pamflet in 1930.

Phoney Phonetics.
One reason why I cannot spell,
Although I learned the rules quite well
Is that some words like coup and through
Sound just like threw and flue and Who;
When oo is never spelled the same,
The duice becomes a guessing game;
And then I ponder over though,
Is it spelled so, or throw, or beau,
And bough is never bow, it's bow,
I mean the bow that sounds like plow,
And not the bow that sounds like row -
The row that is pronounced like roe.
I wonder, too, why rough and tough,
That sound the same as gruff and muff,
Are spelled like bough and though, for they
Are both pronounced a different way.
And why can't I spell trough and cough
The same as I do scoff and golf?
Why isn't drought spelled just like route,
or doubt or pout or sauerkraut?
When words all sound so much the same
To change the spelling seems a shame.
There is no sense - see sound like cents -
in making such a difference
Between the sight and sound of words;
Each spelling rule that undergirds
The way a word should look will fail
And often prove to no avail
Because exceptions will negate
The truth of what the rule may state;
So though I try, I still despair
And moan and mutter "It's not fair
That I'm held up to ridicule
And made to look like such a fool
When it's the spelling that's at fault.
Let's call this nonsense to a halt."

Attributed to Vivian Buchan, NEA Journal 1966/67, USA,
published in Spelling Progress Bulletin Spring 1966 pdf, p6, Reprinted from Educational Horizons.

We must polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
This was a good time to present the present.
A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
The bandage was wound around the wound.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
After a number of injections my jaw got number.
Upon seeing the tear in my clothes I shed a tear.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
I read it once and will read it agen
I learned much from this learned treatise.
I was content to note the content of the message.
The Blessed Virgin blessed her. Blessed her richly.
It's a bit wicked to over-trim a short wicked candle.
If he will absent himself we mark him absent.
I incline toward bypassing the incline.

This poem is quoted on many websites.


I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

Jerrold H. Zar.

Eye halve a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques for my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it to say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
It's rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
Eye am shore your pleased two no
It's letter perfect awl the weigh
My checker tolled me sew.

Margo Roark.

Spelling poems published in Spelling Progress Bulletin.
See also limericks from Out on a Limerick, collected by Bennett Cerf, and from Rimes without Reason, collected by Godfrey Dewey, published in the Bulletins.

[Spelling Progress Bulletin March 1961 pdf p20]
English Rime Words, by Helen Bowyer.
For the most part, they fall into three classes:
1. Eye rimes like "have" and "gave".
2. Ear rimes like "vigor" and "trigger".
3. Eye and ear rimes like "metal" and "petal".
The following couplets have eye rimes. Notice what happens when they are read aloud.

Diver River, by Helen Bowyer.
I wish you were
A long with us here,
Hale and limber as we are,
Glad and gay and free from care;
You would love it here, I know
With the Spring upon us now.
Everything we need we have
And, oh, the precious hours we save
For the things we really love,
But for which we vainly strove,
Pressured by the noisy rush
Of the city's whirl and push.
Oh come, dear friend, do come
Here with us to make your home. [Also in SPB Summer 1976 p18]

The Hired Man, by Anon.
Our hired man named Job
Has got a pleasant job,
The meadow grass to mow
And stow it in the mow.
At work he takes the lead,
He does not fear cold lead,
Nor is he moved to tears
When his clothing tears.
A book that he had read
He handed me to read.
He spends much time in reading
When not at home in Reading.

The homografs in the above would be eliminated by fonetic spelling.

[Spelling Progress Bulletin June 1961 pdf p9]
But I one-der, my dear Kernal,
That you dont publish the jolonel
That you wrote in the infirnal
Days of World War One,
With shot and shell alighting
On the page that you were rye-ting
And a rat or two abighting
At your pen. You myt make a lot of dough
From yure royalties and sew
Could peh up awl yue oh
Around thease parts
And ewer credit, now at zero
Would zoom from heer to Clear Row
And ewe'd bee again the herough
Of aul hearts.

Soe at it, migh dere Cournel
Get busy on that gernal
That yew roat in the infolonel
Days of Were-ld Wore Won,
With schott and shell a-lye-ting
On the peige that yooh were weighting
And a rat or tew a-buy-ting
At yoor pen.

[Spelling Reform Anthology §17.8 p236]
[Spelling Progress Bulletin June 1963 pdf p19]
Under the SPELL of English, by Arthur Bennett
Would you like to be Carnegie's heir,
With never a worry or ceir?
That most of us would is well understould.
One who would not would surely be reir.

When one makes a hole in eight
It's a very sad story to releight
Bad work with the putter and he will mutter
"I'll correct that at some leighter deight."

Once there was an infantry colonel
Who fought where the blitz was infolonel
Want to know the result? You'd better consult
The obituary writ in the Jolonel.

The groom advanced down the aisle
With a smaisle he thought to begaisle
The crowd into thinking he wasn't shrinking
But was scared to death all the whaisle.

A poem is writ word by word;
May be lofty, or may be absord,
May picture the sea, or a bord wild and frea,
Or tell of hope long deford. If a fellow is a regular guy
He'll aim for marks way up huy
He'll push to the top of the hill, witha will
Never pausing to loiter or suy.

Kayak and Seabiscuit raced
They were urged to move and make haced
But for humans to hurry, speed up or, worry
Would be breaking the rules of good taced,

What causes a horsie to neigh,
And what causes a donkey to breigh?
Is it because of their diet they shatter our quiet
Or for pride in their vocal displeigh?

To fly a plane over the ocean
Is possibly not a bad nocean.
Such a perilous flight will turn out all right
If you are able to keep up the mocean.

Look back at the deeds you have done,
Tale stock of your griefs and your fone.
Can you really feel pride and frankly decide
You approve of the race you have rone?

Sent in by Mrs. Ethel Hook, Palm Springs, Calif.

[Spelling Progress Bulletin Winter 1964 pdf p15]
Professor P. Dantick's Dictum on Spelling,
(as caught by this arrant reformer, H.B.)

Sacred is the b in limb,
Hallowed is the n in hymn,
Sanctified the k in knot,
The gh in laugh and thought,
Consecrate the g in gem,
The ph in phone and phlegm,
Yet there be irreverent meddlers
From Bernard Shaw to ice-cream pedlars,
Who would respell even busy
Just to line it up with dizzy.
Who'd e'en contest the right of who
To start itself with w,
And would chop the final e's
From give and have and please and freeze. WHY?

They claim the shocking frequency
Of juvenile delinquency
Stems largely from poor Mat and Milly
Who simply cannot get the silly
Inconsistency of whole,
With knoll and goal and bowl and soul....

[Spelling Progress Bulletin Spring 1965 pdf p24.]
Our Wealth of English Homonyms, by Helen Bowyer.
Owe that eye mite bee that be
Winging hur weigh oar the see,
Oar the waives sew bright and blew,
With the fishes glinting threw,
Sea-ing pour-poises at play,
Here-ing the see-hoarses nay, Passing I-lands green and fare,
With myrrh-mades on them hear and their,
And sumtimes sea a killer whale
Cinque a wore-ship with it's tale.
Owe that eye mite bee as free
Two go winging ore the see!

[Spelling Progress Bulletin Spring 1968 pdf p16]
Scenes on a Playground - English Orthography Illustrated
A letter addressed to: John Sharp, Friends' School, Park Lane, Croydon, 7th Mar. 1844

'Twas a fine winters day - their breakfast was done
And the boys were disposed to enjoy some good fone;
Sam Sprightly observed, "'tis but just ½ past eight
"and there's more time for play than when breakfast is leight,
"and so I'll agree that so cold is the morning,
"We'll keep ourselves warm at a game of stag worning;
"I'm Stag" - with his hand in his waistcoat he's off,
And his playmates are dodging him round the pump-troff.
Sam's active but still their alertness is such
That 'twas not very soon ere one he could tuch.
The captive's afrailed with jokes, buffets laughter
By a host of blithe boys quickly follows aughter.
But joined hand in hand their forces are double;
Nor for jokes or for buffeting care they a bouble.
All's activity now, for high is the sport,
Reinforcements arrive from the shed & shed-cort.
More are caught & their places they straightway assign
At the middle or end of the lengthening lign.
To break it some push with both shoulder and thigh,
But so firm is the hold that vainly they trigh;
Oh! 'tis broken at last, now scamper the whole
To escape their pursuers & get to the gole.
All are caught now but one of the juvenile hosts
And he, a proud hero, vain-gloriously bosts,
But hark! the clock's striking & then by the rules
They must quickly collect for their several schules.
We'll leave them awhile at their books & their sums
And join them again when the afternoon cums.
Now dinner is over - "Sam Sprightly," says he,
"Let us form a good party for cricket at thre;"
Says Joseph, "I wish you'd begin it at two,
"For after our dinner I've nothing to dwo."
But Thomas would rather 'twere fixed an hour later
Because he's on duty as dinning room water;
And so they agreed to meet punctual at four,
On the green just in front of No. 1 dour,
& they thought they should muster not less than a scour.
Sam goes on recruit, "Will thou join us my hearty?"
"Yes" says Richard. "I'll gladly make one of the pearty."
"And William must join, he's a capital bowler,"
"He'll have finished his work by that time as bed-rowler."
"Come Joseph, thou'll join" - but Joseph languidly said,
"I can't for I've got such a pain in my haid,
"I think I should find myself better in baid."
"There's Alfred", says Sam, "I know he will choose."
He said he was sorry the pleasure to loose,
But he was appointed to black the boy's shoose.
They next ask a boy of more sober demeanour,
But he too's in office - they call him knife-cleanour,
"Well Jim thou'll go with us." "No, asking thy pardon,
"I'd rather by far go and work in the gardon,
"For there we get pay - perhaps a nice root,
"Or what I like better - a handful of froot.
"So you'll not enlist me - I'm not a rectoot."
"There's Charles." but alas! poor unfortunate wight,
He's confined to the lodge, - he regretted it quight.
Tho' Frank's a long lesson of grammar to learn,
He'll set it aside not to miss such a tearn;
Some join in the party - but some are too busy.
One does not like cricket, it makes him so dusy.
But now there's enough - so says Sam, "Now my boys,
"Just listen to me - don't make such a noys;
"The High field's the place - & I do not despair
"If the teachers we ask, they will let us play thair,
"So while I get the bats & the ball I propose,
"That Alfred or Richard or somebody gose,
"And presents our request - making this a condition,
"We'll all be good boys if they grant us permition.
"Here's the ball & the bats - just look what a beauty.
"Well Taff, what reply from the master on deauty?"
"Oh! granted" - "That's right - that is capital news;
"Indeed I knew well they would never refews."
So now they're at play - and I think you've enough
Of such spelling, such rhyming, such whimsical stough,
And therefore lest you gained from my verse should inveigh,
I'll bid you farewell, leaving them to their pleigh.

John Smith, Akworth Yorkshire,
from the library of Sir James Pitman, K.B.E.

[Spelling Progress Bulletin Fall 1966 pdf p23.]
Eye Rhymes, by Helen Bowyer
Bear and dear
Share, I fear
The pointless deceptivness
Of there and here.

Some and home
Tomb and comb,
Sin against the tongue
Like from and whom.

Howl and bowl
Foul and soul,
Mislead the ear
Like doll and toll.

Give and dive
Live and thrive, Bewilder the moppet
Of six or five.

Love and hove
Dove and strove
Sound no more alike
Than glove and cove.

Pew and sew
Do and go
Fail expectation
Like now and slow.

Laid and said
Must be read
As if they rhymed
With neighed and Ned.

[Spelling Progress Bulletin Fall 1966 pdf p23.]
My Bonnie
My Bonnie lives over the ocean
My Bonnie flies over the sea
My Bonnie has perpetual mocean
She has St. Vitus's dance, you sea.

Excerpts from:
[Spelling Progress Bulletin Summer 1968 pdf p14]
Who's to blame? by E. E. Arctier
"Oh, you English-speaking people
With your sieze and tease and steeple
With your you and who and glue
And your two and shoe and flew,
Continue with your whom and tomb
Gloom and plume and even rheum.
Torment your little Tom and Terry
With your misspelled bomb and bury With your go and foe and dough
And your sew and tow and know.
Come and dumb and home and foam
Torn and warn and tomb and comb,
Sir and purr and fur and myrrh.
And still we keep our eye and guy
Our much and touch our whole and bowl
Our flower and your, our coal and soul."

[Spelling Progress Bulletin Winter 1968 pdf p1]
Competition Results.
2. From Mr. P. H. Horner, Education Dept., Rolle College, Exmouth, Devon.

It must be rather rough
to be addressed as Reverend Ough.
Or do you politely cough
and say, 'No, I pronounce it Ough'?
Yet if you lived in Slough
you'd be known as Reverend Ough.
While the priest by Irish lough
is addressed as Father Ough.
But I rather think it, though,
that you're simply known as Ough.
Still, I think I've said enough
Mr. Oh, Ow, Ock or Uff.

3. From Miss Helen Bowyer, Los Angeles, California, USA.

That Dear Ph.
Phaster, phaster pflecks the phoam,
Pharther, pharther phrom my home,
Phlying phishes, phirs agleam,
Over there ... to lepht ... to right,
A seacow with her calph in phlight,
While phull ahead phour dolphins play,
Phantastically phleet and gay.
And pharther ophph, is that a whale
Phlipping up his phearphul tail?
Oh, my phirst phoray o'er the sea,
How phabulous you pheel to me!
Phlashing up phrom the Gulph stream;

[Spelling Progress Bulletin Summer 1969 p7]
There was a man named David Byrd
Whose courage rose when he was stirred;
Thus all his friends to him referred
As quite first class, not second or third.
Then one day David gave his word
To join a pal whose name was Ferd.
And though it all seems quite absurd,
Some dreadful thing must have occurred.
For nothing more was ever heard
Of David Byrd and his pal Ferd.
Faith M. Daltry