Archived Story

One moose; two meese?

Published 9:09am Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The English language…it’s not as easy as one would think.

Take the word lead for example. If used as a verb in a sentence – as in the act of guiding a person or object – it’s pronounced LEED. However, if you are referencing a metallic object, then it’s a noun and pronounced LED. Same spelling, but with different pronunciations and different meanings.

These words are known as heteronyms, specific types of homographs in which the different pronunciations are associated with different meanings. Many heteronyms are the result of one pronunciation being a verb and another being a noun.

Have some fun with the English language by reading the following sentences:

Please excuse me while I think of an excuse.

When I graduate I will be become a graduate.

The guard will permit you to pass if you show a valid permit.

A rebel is one who has decided to rebel.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

The farm was used to produce produce.

The attendant at the garbage dump said the facility was so full that he had to refuse more refuse.

We must polish the Polish furniture.

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present his girlfriend the present.

When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

I did not object to the object.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

But this crazy language of ours doesn’t stop with heteronyms. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger. Pineapple is neither an apple nor a pine. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. Quicksand works slowly; boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

Then there’s the plural thing. A deer is a deer, but if there are more than in a field (which is normal to find in our neck of the woods) they are deer as well.

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth?

I saw a goose the other day, but if he had a partner, then it’s geese. But the same doesn’t apply to moose; two or more together doesn’t make them meese.

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?

Why do we ship by truck, but send cargo by ship? Why is it that noses run, but feet smell?

Why do we park on a driveway, but drive on a parkway?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

Why does a house burn up as it burns down?

Why? Because that’s our crazy language.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

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