7 Head-Scratching Curiosities of the English Language [Infographic]
Navigating the English language can be a bit like trying to tame a wild bull.
Just when you think you’ve wrangled it into submission, you’re thrown in the mud and treated to a kick in the head. It’s a language filled with contradictory grammatical rules, seemingly senseless common expressions, bizarre spellings, and overall semantic tomfoolery.
The linguistic lunacy is strongly influenced by the fact that English is a language derived from so many different sources—Latin, Greek, French, German, and Dutch most of all, with a few other distant relatives dropping by the table to pitch in their nonsensical two cents.
If you’re looking for hard and fast rules for learning and practicing English, it’s important to remember it’s all about making room for exceptions. It’s a language in which things can both “burn up” and “burn down,” where items sent on a ship are referred to as “cargo” and those loaded in a car are called “shipments,” where your nose can “run” and your feet can “smell.”
If you’re going to navigate the language successfully, you’ll need patience, determination, and a healthy sense of humor. Just “take it all with a grain of salt” as the saying goes.
English is a language full of oddities and contradictions, so the next time someone criticizes your grammar or points out a vocabulary or proofreading blunder in your dissertation, you have every right to say: “when it comes to English, it’s all Greek to me.”
With 335 million native English speakers, and up to a further 1.2 billion English as a second language speakers around the world, take a little comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in your bewilderment. English is the third most popular language in the world, but arguably the most difficult to learn and practice.
Here’s 7 English language curiosities to scratch your head at:
The English language does not follow logical rules. Whereas a certain rule may apply in one case, it can be applied entirely different in another. When someone learns English, they must also learn where each of these cases are applicable. This can be confusing even for a native speaker!
Fear not, because this infographic will help you with some of the harder to crack curiosities of this language. Contradictions or not, we are all in this together. If you need further help, you will be in good hands with dissertation editing, thesis editing, and academic editing services.
Strange plurals: If you simply needed to add an “s” each time to denote a plural, it would be all too simple. In a case such as tooth, its plural is teeth. However, in the case of booth, its plural is boothes.
If there is one goose, and another goose joins, then there are two geese. However, if there is one moose, and another one saunters by to keep him company, then there are two moose in total.
If one passerby is around, and another passerby comes around, then there are two passersby.
Bizarre pronunciations: Instead of using the letters which can make the appropriate sound/pronunciation for a given word, the English language can have another way to spell it that arrives at the pronunciation, but in a strange way. For example, instead of “laff”, it is spelled “laugh”. Instead of “kiropractor”, it is spelled “chiropractor”, but the “ch” in “church” makes an entirely different sound.
“Ham”: The word “ham” is put into the English language without any connection to the “ham” that is cooked deli meat. For example, hamstrings are muscles at the back of your legs. Hammocks are slings composed of fabric and held up at two points. Hammers are tools that consist of a head end which delivers the blow to another object, such as a nail.
English expressions: Kiddie corner, apple of my eye, as the crow flies, bet your bottom dollar, missing the forest for the trees…all these phrases are expressions that have meanings of their own.
Homonyms: These are words that sound alike but are completely different words that have different spelling. Some examples of homonyms are piece and peace, allowed and aloud, boarder and border, aunts and ants, time and thyme, one and won, red and read.
Ambiguity in sentences: Because a sentence can be misinterpreted if it is not constructed correctly, it is important to make sure that what you have written does not leave room for misinterpretation.
New words and expressions in the English language: There is constantly a barrage of new words and expressions being added to the language. There are many ways of inventing new words, and some are created from mass culture.
According to the article by Andy Bodle, How New Words Are Born, here are 13 ways to create a new word:
- Derivation: Fasten a prefix or suffix to an already existing word. Example: preteen
- Back formation: Take away a prefix or suffix from an existing word. Example: sleaze (from sleazy).
- Compounding: Juxtapose two existing words to create a compound word. Initially, compound words may include a hyphen in between, but this hyphen is thrown out eventually to produce one word. Examples: drumstick, nobody, daydream.
- Repurposing: A word is applied in a different way to create a new meaning. Example: computer mouse
- Conversion: A noun also becomes as adjective (example:giant) or a noun becomes a verb (example: friend, as in, when you friend someone on social media). Conversion is when a word from one word class moves into another class.
- Eponyms: These words are created from the name of a person or place. Some examples are atlas, sandwich, alsatian, diesel, and wellington. Some eponyms hang on to their capital letters.
- Abbreviations: Words may have been “clipped” from a longer version to become shorter, such as mob (mobile vulgus), goodbye (God be with you), curio (curiosity), and rifle (rifled pistol). Words can be created from acronyms, such as laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) and scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).
- Loanwords: Words are taken from other languages. English words have been borrowed from French, Latin, Greek, Flemish, Romany, Portuguese, Nahuatl, Tahitian, Russian, Mayan, Gaelic, Japanese, West Turkic, Walloon, and Polynesian. For example, the word “tattoo” has Tahitian origins, and the word “taboo” has Polynesian origins. The word “rabbit” is derived from Walloon.
- Onomatopoeia: By mimicking a relevant sound, a new word is born. Such examples include “cuckoo”, “bump”, and “plop”.
- Reduplication: The method by which repeating or almost repeating a word or sound creates a new word. Some examples include “flip-flop”, “lovey-dovey”, “boo-boo”, and “hip-hop”.
- Randomly created words: Such words include “bling” and “quark”.
- Error: This may be a disturbing thought, but sometimes when enough people misspell, mispronounce or mistranscribe a word, this word becomes a word.
- Portmanteaus: When a part of one word is combined with another word that is whole or that has also been modified, you create a new word. Examples: sitcom, internet, sexting.
If you liked this infographic, you may also like 23 Words or Phrases to Eliminate From Your Writing Today which discusses words and phrases which are often redundant and detract from the impact of what you are trying to say.