Asylum for the Verbally Insane

The English language is a beast of tricks and traps, paradoxes and contradictions–but it is still beautiful. I love all of the different ways you can express a single idea. To learn it as an ESL/EFL student is no doubt a terribly daunting endeavor, but even as a native, I am always learning new things about its history, its power, and its absolute… insanity.

I had this posted on my old blog, but I thought I would move it over to this address. The poem “Asylum for the Verbally Insane” has an interesting history: although it is commonly said that the author is “unknown” on the internet, the first five verses seem to have actually been penned by Eugenia A. Nidia in 2006. The author of the remaining verses is unclear, and no wonder! There are a many versions of the poem floating around.

Here is the poem:

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 three 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?
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?

Running around the internet for a little more research, I also stumbled across these variations of the poem:

The English Lesson by Richard Krogh

We’ll begin with box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
When couldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
And I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,
But I give 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?
If the singular is this and plural is these,
Why shouldn’t the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?
Then one may be that, and three may be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose;
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!
So our English, I think you will all agree,
Is the trickiest language you ever did see.
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead; it’s said like bed, not bead;
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(they rhyme with suite and straight and debt)
A moth is not a moth in mother.
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there.
And dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up — and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Why, man alive,
I’d learned to talk it when I was five,
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five!

English: An Asylum for The Verbally Insane by Curt Kovener

English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple, and Grape-Nuts® are neither either.
English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.
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 we writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?
If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese?
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? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
How can your house can burn up as it burns down? How can you fill in a form by filling it out? How does an alarm goes off by going on?
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’ but Bic® does?
And if the English language isn’t confusing enough, let’s talk to the animals… in plural.
We are all familiar with a herd of cows, a flock of chickens, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese.
Less widely known is a pride of lions, a murder of crows, an exaltation of doves and, presumably because they look so wise, a parliament of owls.
Now consider a group of Baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and of questionable intellect of all primates. And what is one of the proper collective nouns for a group of baboons?
Most appropriately it is a Congress! That explains a whole bunch, doesn’t it.

And another similar, but obviously different poem:

Brush Up On Your English from the Manchester Guardian

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, laugh, and through.

And cork and work and card and ward
And font and front and word and sword
Well done! And now if you wish, perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed and not like bead–
For goodness sakes don’t call it deed.

Watch out for meat and great and threat,
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
A moth is not a moth in mothers,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.

And here is not a match for there,
And dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose–
Just look them up–and goose and choose,

And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five.

There are a bunch of other lovely gems available on this website, if you are curious.

4 thoughts on “Asylum for the Verbally Insane

  1. Actually, the comedian Gallagher used to have a bunch of that stuff in his back in the 80s, I’m pretty sure. Stuff about driveways and parkways and mustaches and… all kinds of stuff.

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