LINGUIST List 13.3353

Wed Dec 18 2002

Sum: Pronunciation Poem

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  • Karen Smith, Summary - Pronunciation Poem

    Message 1: Summary - Pronunciation Poem

    Date: Tue, 17 Dec 2002 10:15:51 -0000
    From: Karen Smith <>
    Subject: Summary - Pronunciation Poem

    Some time ago I sent a question regarding the origin of the pronunciation poem beginning 'I take it you already know, of tough and bough and cough and dough', (Linguist 13.2672). I received a lot of replies, including more examples of pronunciation poems which I think will be of interest to LINGUIST readers.

    I would like to thank the following people for their help: Bill Rapaport, Laurie Bauer, Robert Hagiwara, Marina Samsonova, Hale I��k, Stephanie Burdine, Peter T. Daniels, Veronika Koller and Marielle Lange.

    The poem, reproduced in full below, is attributed to T.S.Watt (1954) and appeared in the Guardian. It can be found in the following publication:

    Taylor. I. and Taylor, M. M. 1983. _The Psychology of Reading_, New York: Academic Press, p. 99

    Fromkin, V. and Rodman, R. 1998. _An Introduction to Language 6th Edition_, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, p. 251

    Yule, G. 1985._The Study of Language_, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.33

    However, in the following publication it is attributed to Richard Krough, see:

    O'Grady, W., Dobrovolsky, W. and Katamba, F.1997. _Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction_, London: Longman, p.614

    So, I am none the wiser really. Here is the poem in full:

    Recovering Sounds from Orthography Brush up Your English

    I take it you already know Of tough and bough and cough and dough. Others may stumble but not you, On hiccough, through, 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's 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.

    Several people pointed me in the direction of similar poems, such as:


    This was written by Dr Gerald Nolst Trenit� (1870-1946) who was a Dutch observer of English and wrote under the pseudonym Charivarius.

    It first appeared in _Drop Your Foreign Accent - Engelse Uitspraakoefeningen_, by G. Nolst Trenite (5th rev. ed., H. D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1929).

    It can also be found in the following:

    Crystal, D. 1995. _Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language_, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.273

    Purcell, Hugh Dominic. 1990. _Speaking and Writing English for German Speakers_. 2nd ed. Vienna: Braum�ller. pp.23-29.

    Trim, J. 1975. English Pronunciation Illustrated, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Gerard Nolst Trenit� The Chaos for JSSS 94/2 The Chaos� // A Versified Catalog of 800 English Spelling Irregularities // � 2646 words, 275 lines. Source: The Journal of the simplified spelling society 1994 / 2

    Here is the poem in full:

    Dearest creature in creation, Study English pronunciation. I will teach you in my verse Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse. I will keep you, Suzy, busy, Make your head with heat grow dizzy. Tear in eye, your dress will tear. So shall I! Oh hear my prayer. Pray console your loving poet, Make my coat look new, dear sew it.

    Just compare heart, beard, and heard, Dies and diet, lord and word, Sword and sward, retain and Britain. (Mind the latter, how it's written.) Now I surely will not plague you With such words as plaque and ague. But be careful how you speak: Say break and steak, but bleak and streak; Cloven, oven, how and low, Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

    Hear me say, devoid of trickery, Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore, Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles, Exiles, similes, and reviles; Scholar, vicar, and cigar, Solar, mica, war and far; One, anemone, Balmoral, Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel; Gertrude, German, wind and mind, Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

    Billet does not rhyme with ballet, Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet. Blood and flood are not like food, Nor is mould like should and would. Viscous, viscount, load and broad, Toward, to forward, to reward. And your pronunciation's OK When you correctly say croquet, Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve, Friend and fiend, alive and live.

    Ivy, privy, famous; clamour And enamour rhyme with hammer. River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb, Doll and roll and some and home. Stranger does not rhyme with anger, Neither does devour with clangour. Souls but foul, haunt but aunt, Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant, Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger, And then singer, ginger, linger, Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge, Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

    Query does not rhyme with very, Nor does fury sound like bury. Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth. Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath. Though the differences seem little, We say actual but victual. Refer does not rhyme with deafer. Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer. Mint, pint, senate and sedate; Dull, bull, and George ate late. Scenic, Arabic, Pacific, Science, conscience, scientific.

    Liberty, library, heave and heaven, Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven. We say hallowed, but allowed, People, leopard, towed, but vowed. Mark the differences, moreover, Between mover, cover, clover; Leeches, breeches, wise, precise, Chalice, but police and lice; Camel, constable, unstable, Principle, disciple, label.

    Petal, panel, and canal, Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal. Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair, Senator, spectator, mayor. Tour, but our and succour, four. Gas, alas, and Arkansas. Sea, idea, Korea, area, Psalm, Maria, but malaria. Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean. Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

    Compare alien with Italian, Dandelion and battalion. Sally with ally, yea, ye, Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key. Say aver, but ever, fever, Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver. Heron, granary, canary. Crevice and device and aerie.

    Face, but preface, not efface. Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass. Large, but target, gin, give, verging, Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging. Ear, but earn and wear and tear Do not rhyme with here but ere. Seven is right, but so is even, Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen, Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk, Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

    Pronunciation -- think of Psyche! Is a paling stout and spikey? Won't it make you lose your wits, Writing groats and saying grits? It's a dark abyss or tunnel: Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale, Islington and Isle of Wight, Housewife, verdict and indict.

    Finally, which rhymes with enough -- Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough? Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!!!


    "Charles Battell Loomis, quoted in _Our Accursed Spelling_, edited by E.O. Vaile." Blancke, Wilton W. (1953), _General Principles of Language and Experiences in Language, Revised_, ed. by Richard D. Abraham (Boston: D.C. Heath).

    I'm taught p-l-o-u-g-h Shall be pronounced "Plow." "Zat's easy when you know," I say, "Mon Anglais I'll get through."

    My teacher say zat in zat case O-u-g-h is "oo." And zen I laugh and say to him "Zees Anglais make me cough."

    He say, "Not coo, but in zat word O-u-g-h is `off.'" O sacre bleu! Such varied sound Of words make me hiccough.

    He says, "Again my friend is wrong; O-u-g-h is `uff.'" I say, "I try to spik your words, I can't pronounce them, though."

    "In time you'll learn, but now you're wrong; O-u-g-h is `owe'!" "I'll try no more, I shall go mad, I'll drown me in ze lough."

    Thanks to Marielle Lange for all of the following:

    How on earth do you spell pearl--and don't ask me to look it up in the dictionary because I've already looked under "pir," "pur," and "per" without finding it. --a child (Quoted in Roswell, F. and Natchez, G. 1971. _Reading disability :diagnosis and treatment_, New York, London: Basic Books, p.103)

    The Bernard Shaw's Ghoti example and a variation of it

    GHOTI - ---- In line with this week's critique of English pronunciation, dare I bring up George Bernard Shaw's plea for spelling reform with the word 'GHOTI"

    GH as in "rough" O as in "women" TI as in "nation"

    GHOTI = "fish"

    After your AWAD series on pronunciation, several people mentioned Shaw's lament about GHOTI = FISH. It's actually worse than that. Consider:

    GH as in "night" O as in "people" T as in "bouquet" I as in "piece"

    ....and GHOTI = ""

    Twain complaining about irregularities

    Classic version English Spelling by Mark Twain For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet.

    The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

    Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli.

    Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

    Spelling jokes

    Joke EuroEnglish

    The European Commission have just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU, rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty's government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five year phase in plan that would be known as "EuroEnglish". In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump for joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of the "k". This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with the "f". This will make words like "fotograf" 20% shorter.

    In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e"s in the languag is disgraseful, and they should go away.

    By the 4th year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th " with "z" and "w" with "v". During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters. After zis fifz year, ve vil hav a realy sensiblriten styl. zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand each ozer.


    A. Spelling 'Jokes' etc

    If GH stands for P as in Hiccough If OUGH stands for O as in Dough If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour If TTE stands for T as in Gazette If EAU stands for O as in Plateau The right way to spell POTATO should be GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU!

    B. Outfoxing the Spelling Checker

    They're know miss steaks in this newsletter cause we used special soft wear witch checks yore spelling. It is mower or lass a weigh too verify. How ever is can knot correct arrows inn punctuation ore usage:an it will not fined words witch are miss used butt spelled rite. Four example; a paragraph could have mini flaws but wood bee past by the spell checker. And it wont catch the sentence fragment which you. Their fore, the massage is that proofreading is knot eliminated, it is still berry muck reek wired. ['Interface' (vol. 20, no7) published by the University of California, Santa Cruz, Computer Center. ]

    C. Charles Follen Adams, "An Orthographic Lament"

    If an S and an I and an O and a U With an X at the end spell Su; And an E and a Y and an E spell I, Pray what is a speller to do? Then, if also an S and an I and a G And an HED spell side, There's nothing much left for a speller to do But to go commit siouxeyesighed.

    Other language play, semantics:


    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 or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

    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? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices?

    Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? 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 preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

    Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

    How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another.

    Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who ARE spring chickens or who would ACTUALLY hurt a fly?

    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 clock goes off by going on.

    English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.

    Best wishes,

    Karen Smith