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Maybe it's coincidence but recently I seem to have been involved in a number of conversations about web content and the English language. First there was an article by journalist Tom Copeland about Google's latest algorithm valuing 'hand-written', tailored web content rather than regurgitated material from 'overseas content farms'.
This lead to a heated, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, debate on the LinkedIn Freelance Web Writer's Group, mainly comprised of US contributors, about exactly who is defined as 'overseas' and where the English language came from in the first place (the clue's in the name).
Subsequently, I was involved in a very interesting discussion with the Chinese representative of a client about website content and the difficulties of English and Mandarin Chinese languages. We readily agreed about the obvious hurdles of each trying to speak the other's language when there are simply no reference points or similarities whatsoever between the two (as an aside, her English was fluent in comparison to my non-existent Mandarin Chinese). But it also made me think about the hurdles faced when writing content, or even speaking, in our own language.
No sooner had I returned to the office than the following poem landed in my inbox. The version below is attributed to Eugenie A. Nidia, although it would appear that the original dates back to the mid-1800s and was printed in the US - which kind of brings us full circle to how this dialogue started.
You say "tomato" I say...nope, doesn't quite work in print. Clearly it loses something in the translation.
We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full 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 my foot and show you my 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 shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, 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!
Let's face it . . . English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England.
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?
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 folks who grew up speaking English
Should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.
In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And 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.
And in closing, if father is pop, how come mother's not mop?
Published 16th March, 2011