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The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough

tough-coughs-ploughs-dough-seuss1Oh, English. I’m so glad I learned to speak you when I was just an innocent tot, when my brain was a thirsty sponge, eager to absorb anything poured into it. I feel for people who try to learn English as adults. Woe betide them! English is as nonsensical and contradictory as anything in Whoville. Ting-tanglers indeed.

To illustrate, please have a read – aloud, if you dare – of this poem by Dr. Seuss, and note the entire lack of fanciful, make-believe words (this would make a great gift for the word nerd in your life. I know, because I want it!):

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.
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.
Foeffer 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 just give up!!!

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

5 Responses to “The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough”

  1. Here’s a brilliant variation on the same theme, by ‘Q’ (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch):

    O the Harbour of Fowey
    Is a beautiful spot
    And it’s there I enjowey
    To sail in a yot;
    Or to race in a yacht
    Round a mark or a buoy –
    Such a beautiful spacht
    Is the Harbour of Fowey!

    When her anchor is weighed
    And the water she ploughs,
    Upon neat lemoneighed
    O it’s then I caroughs;
    And I take Watts’s hymns
    And I sing them aloud
    When it’s homeward she skymns
    O’er the waters she ploud.

    But the wave mountain-high,
    And the violent storm,
    Do I risk them? Not igh!
    But prefer to sit worm
    With a book on my knees
    By the library fire,
    While I list to the brees
    Rising hire and hire.

    And so, whether I weigh
    Up the anchor or not,
    I am happy each deigh
    In my home or my yot;
    Every care I resign,
    Every comfort enjoy,
    In this cottage of mign
    By the Harbour of Foy.

    And my leisure’s addressed
    To composing of verse
    Which, if hardly the bessed,
    Might be easily werse.
    And, the spelling I use
    Should the critics condemn,
    Why, I have my own vuse
    And I don’t think of themn.

    Yes, I have my own views:
    But the teachers I follow
    Are the lyrical Miews
    And the Delphic Apollow.
    Unto them I am debtor
    For spelling and rhyme,
    And I’m doing it bebtor
    And bebtor each thyme.

  2. Beth Carswell

    Ha! That’s great, Mike – and I’d never heard of it. very clever. :) Thank you for posting!

  3. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Mike! I have been looking for that poem ever since I almost memorized it in Junior High (many, many years ago).

  4. My pleasure!

  5. Here is the trouble: modern-day everyone is so accurate.
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