English language: entertaining and mysterious

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2020

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American English, without a doubt, is the most entertaining of all languages, especially when it comes to word pronunciation and double meanings.

Take for example the states of Kansas and Arkansas. Does it trouble you, like me, that Kansas is pronounced “Can-Sis” but yet Arkansas is pronounced “Ark-Can-Saw.”

Here are some other interesting word facts to ponder.

You can drink a drink, but you cannot food a food.

Why are the names Zoey and Zoe pronounced the same, but Joey and Joe aren’t?

Why does fridge contain a “d” but refrigerator does not?

Queue is perhaps the strangest word of all. It’s just the letter “Q” followed by four silent letters.

If you really want to understand how different pronunciation is for certain words, repeat these that end in “ough”….cough, rough, bough, dough, through, and though.

Then there are words that sound the same but have totally different meanings:

Peer and pier;

Wait and weight;

Bridal and bridle;

Higher and hire;

Plain and plane;

Throne and thrown;

Waive and wave;

Real and reel;

Canvas and canvass;

Weather and whether;

Knot and not;

Peal and peel;

Flea and flee;

Some and sum;

Packed and pack;

Pole and poll;

Council and counsel;

Dear and deer;

Crews and cruise;

Ceiling and sealing;

Sail and sale; and

Waist and waste.

There are even multiple listings of homophones such as right, rite, wright and write; and sent, scent, and sent.

And while we’re on the word – scent – which is silent…the s or the c?

How ‘bout words that are spelled the exact same way, but have totally different meanings. Here’s a few examples:

Bark (noun) is found on a tree; bark (verb) is the sound made your neighbor’s dog that keeps you awake at night.

At the end of your fingers and toes are nails. Nails are also small pieces of metal that are hammered into wood.

Bolt is another multi-use word. It’s a metal fastener; a single ray of lightning; and also means to run extremely fast. “A bolt from the sky made me bolt past the door bolt.”

Season (noun) is a period of the year. Season (verb) is to apply spices to food.

Hatch (verb) means a baby bird emerging from the egg. Hatch (noun) is an opening you’ll find in a ship or airplane.

If you wear a belt with your pants, it probably has a buckle. But if you suffer a lot of stress at your job, you may buckle emotionally.

A racket is a piece of sporting equipment used in tennis and badminton. It also means a loud, chaotic noise.

Squash is a vegetable, a game played indoors, and to crush something. “I wanted to squash the spider that was crawling on my plate of squash while I watched two competitors playing squash.”

Are these strange but true word facts restricted only to English or do other languages have the same twists? Wish I was able to answer the latter portion of the above sentence, but I struggle enough with English.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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