Given her struggles with spelling, word play games on the English language are not Jemimah's idea of a fun way of whiling away a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Her daddy and I, on the other hand, gain a great deal of pleasure in playing with, and discussing, words and language. The amusing quirks, absurdities and oddities of our own English language and its pronunciation and spelling will never cease to amuse us. Yes, yes, I know: small minds, and all that.
My niece, the beautiful 13 year old Princess Mini-me, is wired the same way as I am, hence her blog name. Our families often joke that she is really my daughter, whilst Jemimah, who is my sister's clone, belongs with them. Princess Mini-me acts like me, looks like me, is wonderful like me. Jemimah, on the other hand...well, she is wonderful too, and I wouldn't swap her for the world. But if I did, it would be for Mini-me. I digress. (How often I type those words on this blog).
One Sunday afternoon recently, Mini-me was a hanging with the adults, as befits a 13 yo first child. Ahem. Anyhow, the talk turned to language as it often does, and I realised that the Princess didn't know how to pronounce ghoti. What a failure in her education - she needed to be enlightened immediately!
Being a diligent and obsessively competitive child, she approached the task with determination and will, and finally managed, with much help, to pronounce the word as we all know it should be said, not a goatee like the beard, but ghoti as in fish.
Of course, Jemimah with her keen homeschooler's knowledge of spelling rules would have known, had she bothered to hang around the adults - which she didn't, that it is only gh at the end of a word that says 'f', and ti at the end of a word never says 'sh', but that would ruin the fun, and anyhow, we know for sure that spelling rules are only made to be broken.
Although he didn't mention ghoti, the Dutch teacher,Gerard Nolst Trenité, recognised this absurdity of English spelling when he wrote his wonderful poem, The Chaos, back in the 1920s. The poem contains about 800 examples of irregular pronunciation written in mostly clever rhyming couplets, and is most sublime fun to read aloud.
Here is the beginning:
Dearest creature in Creation,If you're after the rest of the poem, which I'm sure you will be, you'll find it here. Such excellent word fun, it is.
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
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!)
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via;
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven; how and low;
Script, receipt; shoe, poem, toe.
I tried reading The Chaos aloud to my audience, but even my Beloved tired of listening after the first six or seven verses.
Princess Mini-me had left the erudite company of grown-ups by then.
Shame, really - she wouldn't have let me down.