21 June 2008

Shibboleth

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 give up!!!

-- Author Unknown

9 comments:

erp said...

Love it.

jim hamlen said...

Never saw this one before - very good. Only in England, but how did he know about Arkansas?

Peter Burnet said...

I once knew a guy from Quebec who described his efforts to learn English in language class. He was trying to master all the vagaries of pronunciation contained in your verse and was finding it very tough. One day he was assigned an oral reading that contained the word "salmon", and of course he pronounced the l. When he was corrected, he asked the teacher why it was silent and was told "just because it is". He thereupon blew a gasket, stormed out of the class and swore never to speak another word of English again.

joe shropshire said...

I think I might have known the same guy, except he was from Madawaska.

David said...

Great.

Now I've got the line, "I once knew a guy from Quebec/" stuck in my head.

Peter Burnet said...

Hey, we haven't done this for a while:

"I once knew a guy from Quebec,
English lessons had left him a wreck,
Outmatched by a vowel
He threw in the towel
And on Molson blew each welfare check."

aog said...

Well, it goes off the rails a bit here ...

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

... because "bass" can rhyme with "glass" but and not "efface", if it's a fish.

I think he should have used more homographs, like "moped" (vehicle/action), "tier" (level/knotter), or "unionized" (grouped/no longer an ion). Those really demonstrate the arbitrariness of the language.

Hmmm, he did get "tear" (eye water/rip) and "wound" (injured/tightened). But no "dove" (bird/leap in to water)?

David said...

aog: Some of those I assume he missed because he's British.

On the other hand, "bass", the guitar tuned one octave lower than regular guitars, rhymes with efface and they might not fish for bass (rhymes with ass) in England.

aog said...

Oh, I knew what he meant. But it's ambiguous and in an ironic way.

In terms of missing, he didn't really miss anything, since he never uses any of those homographs as homographs.

One should always keep a supply at hand for torturing children and foreigners, because if you ask them what word it is, they're always wrong!