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Kevin Myers: Pearse was right, this English lingo-thing is a slum -- henceforth, I shall write in Hebrew

THIS is the silly season and frankly some silliness is overdue. Consider: if Shakespeare had been able to rhyme "Danish" with an exit verb like "banish" or "vanish", Hamlet would have been booted off the stage in Act One, Scene One and the English language would have lost one of its most infuriating plays. But Danish doesn't rhyme with any other -anish words, not even "Spanish", so the bard had to scribble on. Moreover, the lawless nature of English is encapsulated by "To be or not to be."

All four words used sound exactly like other words. Thus, a musical-archaeologist studying the amber found in lodestones might find a couple of worker-bees frozen in a perpetual clove-hitch. After listening carefully to the ancient monotone, he might well cry sadly: "Two-bee ore-knot too B."

Now translate that into Mandarin.

Consider. "Comb" rhymes with neither "bomb" nor "womb", nor they with one another. "Tomb" doesn't rhyme with "home", though "comb" rhymes with "tome", which doesn't rhyme with "some" but it does with "holm".

"Limb" doesn't rhyme with "climb", but it does with "hymn". "Sum" sounds the same as "some", and "sun" the same as "son". In extremis, one might even talk of male offspring warbling about a spot of solar-counting, (best aloud): "Some sons sing some suns-sum."

Not a commonplace confusion, I grant you, but nonetheless possible. So too is the farmer who watched his female pig spreading seeds; "So! I see a sow sow!" Sow, as in spreading seeds, of course, is pronounced the same as "sew", a homophone of "so"; whereas the she-hog rhymes with "how".

This enables one to say, albeit in the subjunctive mood (this is also best read aloud): "While the sow sow, so see how few sow sew."

I think we just lost a few more readers there.

Before we leave "ew" completely, consider how "few" rhymes with "stew", though not with "sew". Moreover, "stew" and "few" and "feud" are all pronounced with unspelt "Y" sounds: "styoo", "fyood" and "fyoo".

But not of course our old friend "sew", which also rhymes with "though". But "though" doesn't rhyme with "bough". Indeed, it rhymes with none of the following: "tough", "cough", "through", "thorough" or "thought".

Thus, the famous many-sounds of "ough", with two variants in Loughborough alone: "Though coughing, on a tough bough on a lough in Loughborough, I thought thoroughly through the slough of despond."

Ah, yes, that was the sound of the Polish consul-general, exiting through an unopened window.

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Moreover, the "none" I used a moment ago doesn't rhyme with "gone", and neither rhymes with "bone". Which is all really rather zany, which doesn't rhyme with "any", which does rhyme with "penny".

But we don't have pennies anymore, just cents: which enables a man who smells coinage to cry (aloud, please): "Aye-aye, I sense cents' scents!"

Ah, I see that the military attaché in the Peruvian embassy has just thrown down his Independent in disgust and is now taking up needlework instead. Which of course makes him a sewer. Not, of course, a sewer, the underground drain, which rhymes with "brewer", and into which showers falls. And I don't mean "showers", as in people who show, which rhymes with goers. I mean showers -- as in rain (rather than rein or reign) -- a word that doesn't rhyme with blowers, but does rhyme with bowers. Showers produce floods, a word that doesn't rhyme with "foods" or "woods" -- and why would it, since neither rhymes with one another anyway.

I think we just lost the German ambassador. Good man!

Moreover, English changes the pronunciation of a word according to its roll, sorry, I mean role. So "refuse", meaning "rubbish" is pronounced "ref-yoos", whereas "refuse", meaning "reject", is pronounced "r'fyooz.

"Record", the thing is pronounced (unless you're American) with an equal emphasis on two long syllables, (two short ones for Yanks): but the verb is pronounced "r'cord", (the "'" sound in both verbs, by the way, being known as a "shwa").

English is a heartless language that pronounces "bury" like "berry", but not "fury" like "ferry". It makes "eight" sound just like "ate," -- which can also be spelt "eat" -- but not like "sleight", which is pronounced, not like "slate", but identically to "slight".

Which nearly brings us to "sight", which sounds just like "site" and "cite". "To seed ground" sounds the same as "to cede ground", with virtually opposite meanings, while "he sucks seeds" could be "he succeeds". Isle of View sounds bizarrely like "I love you".

"What is that?" cried the Viceroy, pointing at Inishradharc.

Patrick Pearse replied haughtily, "Isle of View."

"Oh, Mr Pearse," simpered the Viceroy, reaching out his hand.

Moreover, entirely different concepts go by the identical sound: "aisle", "isle" and "I'll". We say "heir", not like "hair" or "hare", but identically to an entire tribe of aitchless words.

Thus, the Scots in-flight-refuelling-baron audibly blunders again: "Ah, hear the heir to Ayr err, as e'er, air-to-air."

Yes, Patrick Pearse was right! This English lingo-thing is a slum! A shambles! Henceforth, I shall write in Hebrew. Till Tuesday, shalom.

kmyers@independent.ie


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