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The English language is weird

It is a question which has occupied the minds of many of the great thinkers of the English world.

Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?

Right behind that on the list of great imponderables is why we usually use ships to carry cargo and cars to ship things.

The reason is probably quite simple: The English language is weird.

Just look at the word ‘weird’, for instance. If you follow the ‘rule’ of English that says, “I before E except after C, or when they say ‘a’ as in ‘neighbour’ or ‘weigh’”, the word is not spelled correctly.

Shows you how much faith to put in the ‘rules’ of English.

A number of writers have pointed out that applying rules of English pronunciation, ‘ghoti’ is pronounced ‘fish’. That’s ‘gh’ as in ‘cough’, ‘o’ as in ‘women’, and ‘ti’ as in ‘nation’.

All of these, I have to admit, are reasons why I love the English language. It has so many odd features which are fun to look at.

The word ‘cleave’, for instance, can mean either ‘to split’ or ‘to bring together’. There are enough words like that in English, with two opposite meanings, that there is a word for them – ‘contranym’.

There are books I have seen which contain words from other languages which express concepts we don’t have words for in English. Then you look at a word like ‘set’, which has approximately 10,000 meanings in English. (That is a very rough approximation, by the way.)

It has also been said that no two words in English have exactly the same meaning. They may express the same concept, but there are different connotations to each of them which change the meaning slightly.

If I speak of a ‘book’, for instance, I think most people would have a slightly different idea of what I meant than if I referred to it as a ‘volume’.

The meaning of words can also depend on pronunciation. I can use the word ‘unionized’ to mean either a group of people belonging to the same labour organization or to a chemical property of a substance.

It all depends on the context of the word, and the fact very few people will mistake one for the other indicates how, even with all its strange trappings, people generally understand English fairly well.

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