Monday, June 27, 2011

A Duplicity of Plurals

 Thought for the day:  If you clean out your odds and ends drawer and only have one thing left in there, is it an odd or an end?

Now, is it I before E except ... 
As promised, we're gonna take another look at the head-scratching complexities of the English language today. Specifically, we're going to talk about plurals. As luck would have it, a friend recently sent me a poem about that very topic, so hey! I'm going with it. This poem does a bang-up job of saying what I wanted to say, so why fight it? And a great big THANK YOU to Cliff in Tennessee for essentially giving me a post-writing day day off.

This poem has been passed around via the Internet, and has appeared on several websites, usually without attribution, but investigation reveals that it may have originally been written as early as the mid 1800s, and the following version, which includes the non-poem parts, is commonly attributed to Eugenie A. Nidia, but as for the date? I haven't a clue.


                                                       An Ode to the English Plural

                                           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 there 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 recital? 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.??????

Well, I think I'll go see what my cats are up to ...

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


  1. You p@rk in @ Drivew@y, but drive on @ P@rkw@y. :)heehee - gre@t poem.

  2. Love it. I've seen the prose part before in an email, but I think it has become embellished somewhat.

  3. Hi, Skippy. Guess you haven't gotten that pesky keyboard fixed yet, eh? But I LIKE your new A. Talk about improvise, adapt, and overcome ... and who knows ? Your @ may catch on! Take care, you clever lady.

  4. I'm not sure Mother is not a mop. After all, we spend our lives cleaning up after everyoone.

  5. Although I haven't seen the plural poem before, I have seen the three paragraphs that follow it (although written out as lines of a poem). I use it every year with my students in class, and they get a kick out of it!

  6. Maybe you could write your own poem about the "ough" words and the "i before e" rule. Those two alone can cause migraine.

  7. Love this post.Absolutely love it, Susan.

  8. Hi-ya, Musical Gardener. (Or shall I call you MG?) Yeah, some of these things that go around via email have a way of becoming embellished. Thanks for stopping by, dear sir.

    Hi, Starting Over. Now, ain't that the truth! 'Course, nowadays, the cleaning isn't nearly as high on my give-a-darn list as it used to be.

    Hi, Dianne- I must admit, the lines I wrote as prose came to me formatted more like a poem, but didn't quite ring true as a poem for me, so I changed it.

    Hi, Delores- My goodness, you aren't gonna believe this! Earlier this morning, I typed and scheduled my post for Wednesday, and (get this!) it's a poem I wrote ... loosely based on "ough" words! How weird it that? (I tell ya, separated at birth ... )

  9. Excellent post - enjoyed it very much. Yep English is a crazy language. BTW, I can answer the Thought For The Day. If I cleared out my odds and ends drawer, and had only one item left in it, it would be odd, on both counts :-)
    Have a lovely week and thanks for the smiles.

  10. Hi, Florida. You betcha.

    Hi, Karla. Oh, I absolutely love your response to the odds & ends question, and I must agree. Me, too!

  11. Just imagine that like here (in France) nouns had sexes, and that every school-child had to learn that a window was feminine, and a hat was masculine, etc, etc!!

    However, things aren't so easy. A beard in French is feminine, and an handbag masculine... who the hell decided these things???

  12. Hi, Cro. You're right. A number of languages seem to arbitrarily assign gender to their nouns. At least English doesn't do that to us. I've been thinking about doing a post on this very topic, and will probably tackle it this Friday. (Great minds think alike!) Take care.

  13. I've seen it before but it is still fun!

  14. This was a fun poem that really makes you think. I still like you poem about the stunt cat better. Julie