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English is a Crazy Language, part 2
by Richard Lederer

This is the second installment of four in iStudentCity's publication of Richard Lederer's essay "English is a Crazy Language," the first chapter of his book Crazy English. Don't worry if you see a phrase you don't know, just look it up in a dictionary. If you enjoy this article, visit Richard Lederer's web site.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

If adults commit adultery, do infants commit infantry? If olive oil is made from olives, what do they make baby oil from? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian consume? If pro and con are opposites, is congress the opposite of progress?

Why can you call a woman a mouse but not a rat -- a kitten but not a cat? Why is it that a woman can be a vision, but not a sight -- unless your eyes hurt? Then she can be "a sight for sore eyes."

A writer is someone who writes, and a stinger is something that stings. But fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, hammers don't ham, humdingers don't humding, ushers don't ush, and haberdashers do not haberdash.

If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn't the plural of booth be beeth? One goose, two geese -- so one moose, two meese? One index, two indices -- one Kleenex, two Kleenices? If people ring a bell today and rang a bell yesterday, why don't we say that they flang a ball? If they wrote a letter, perhaps they also bote their tongue. If the teacher taught, why isn't it also true that the preacher praught? Why is it that the sun shone yesterday while I shined my shoes, that I treaded water and then trod on the beach, and that I flew out to see a World Series game in which my favorite player flied out?

If we conceive a conception and receive at a reception, why don't we grieve a greption and believe a beleption? If a firefighter fights fire, what does a freedom fighter fight? If a horsehair mat is made from the hair of horses, from what is a mohair coat made?

A slim chance and a fat chance are the same, as are a caregiver and a caretaker, a bad licking and a good licking, and "What's going on?" and "What's coming off?" But a wise man and a wise guy are opposites. How can sharp speech and blunt speech be the same and quite a lot and quite a few the same, while overlook and oversee are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell the next?

If button and unbutton and tie and untie are opposites, why are loosen and unloosen and ravel and unravel the same? If bad is the opposite of good, hard the opposite of soft, and up the opposite of down, why are badly and goodly, hardly and softly, and upright and downright not opposing pairs?

If harmless actions are the opposite of harmful actions, why are shameful and shameless behavior the same and pricey objects less expensive than priceless ones? If appropriate and inappropriate remarks and passable and impassable mountain trails are opposites, why are flammable and inflammable materials, heritable and inheritable property, and passive and impassive people the same? How can valuable objects be less valuable than invaluable ones? If uplift is the same as lift up, why are upset and set up opposite in meaning? Why are pertinent and impertinent, canny and uncanny, and famous and infamous neither opposites nor the same? How can raise and raze and reckless and wreckless be opposites when each pair contains the same sound?

Why is it that when the sun or the moon or the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible; that when I clip a coupon from a newspaper I separate it, but when I clip a coupon to a newspaper, I fasten it; and that when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I shall end it?

English is a crazy language.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Richard Lederer has penned more than 2,000 books and articles about language and humor, including his bestselling Crazy English and his current book, The Bride of Anguished English, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Described on his web site as "Attila the Pun" and "Conan the Grammarian," Lederer enjoys sharing his love of English with the world. He volunteers as the vice president of The Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (S.P.E.L.L.), and travels around speaking to everyone from elementary school students to teaching organizations.


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