We were taught that the English language is a precise form of communication and if one learned and followed the rules of grammar exactly; your diction and compositions would be perfect. People who speak other languages have their doubts about this. Here are some linguistic anomalies from the book “Crazy English”by linguist Richard Lederer.

  • If adults commit adultery, do infants commit infantry?
  • If olive oil is made from olive, what do they make baby oil from?
  • If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian consume?
  • 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?
  • There is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger.
  • Sweetmeat are candies, while sweetbreads are meat
  • Quicksand  works slowly.
  • Boxing rings are square.
  • One index, two indices? Is cheese the plural of choose?
  • Why do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
  • Why do people have noses that run and feet that smell?
  • Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways?
  • How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same?
  • How can a wise man and a wise guy be opposites?
  • How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?
  • An alarm clock goes off by going on.
  • When a house burns up, why does it burn down.
  • You fill in a form by filling it out.
  • When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
  • Why when I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this article, I end it?

These wordplays and anomalies are funny and thought provoking. However, what is amazing is how quickly our minds charitably makes sense and meaning by filling in blanks or shifting into a new frame of reference so that language makes sense. There seems to be a principle of relevance where our minds do whatever it takes to make language and true and we don’t dwell on the anomalies. 

Our minds quickly understand the following joke by shifting a frame of reference. W.C. Fields was once asked, “Do you believe in clubs for young people?” He answered, “Only when kindness fails.” Young people flip from being a target of beneficence to being a target of discipline.

How about the rules of grammar. Remember the sacrosanct spelling rule “i before e, except after c” we were all taught?

  • Listed here are 409 words that break the rule:agapeic,      albeit, alzheimer, anaheim, apartheid, apneic, apogeic, braunschweiger,      caducei, caffein, caffeine, caffeines, caffeinic, caffeins, casein,      caseins, choreic, codein, codeine, codeines, codeins, coheir, coheirs,      counterfeit, counterfeited, counterfeiter, counterfeiters, counterfeiting,      counterfeitly, counterfeitness, counterfeits, cruzeiro, cruzeiros,      cuneiform, decaffeinate, decaffeinated, decaffeinates, decaffeinating,      dei, deice, deiced, deicer, deicers, deices, deicidal, deicide, deicides,      deicing, deific, deifical, deification, deifications, deified, deifier,      deifiers, deifies, deiform, deify, deifying, deionization, deionizations,      deionize, deionized, deionizes, deionizing, deoxyribonucleic,      desoxyribonucleic, diarrhoeic, edelweiss, edelweisses, eider, eiderdown,      eiders, eidetic, eidola, eidolon, eidolons, eidos, eiffel, eikon,      einstein, einsteinium, eire, eisenhower, eisteddfod, eisteddfods,      eisteddfodau, either, fahrenheit, feinschmecker, feinschmeckers, feist,      feistier, feistiest, feists, feisty, foreign, foreigner, foreigners,      foreignness, forfeit, forfeitable, forfeitableness, forfeited, forfeiting,      forfeits, forfeiture, forfeitures, frankenstein, frankensteins, fraulein,      frauleins, geiger, geisha, geishas, gemutlichkeit, gesundheit, glutei,      gneiss, gneisses, gneissic, heifer, heifers, heigh, height, heighten,      heightened, heightening, heightens, heighth, heighths, heights, heil,      heiled, heiling, heils, heinie, heinies, heir, heirdom, heirdoms, heired,      heiress, heiresses, heiring, heirless, heirloom, heirlooms, heirs, heirship,      heirships, heist, heisted, heister, heisters, heisting, heists, herein,      hereinafter, hereinto, heterogeneity, holstein, holsteins, homogeneity,      howbeit, hygeist, hygieists, ileitis, inhomogeneities, inveigle,      inveigled, inveiglement, inveigler, inveiglers, inveigles, inveigling,      jadeite, jadeites, janeiro, kaleidoscope, kaleidoscopes, kaleidoscopic,      kaleidoscopically, keister, keisters, kinaestheic, kleig, lactoprotein,      leipzig, leister, leisure, leisured, leisureless, leisurely, leisures,      leitmotif, leitmotifs, liechtenstein, lipoprotein, madeira, madeiras,      mallei, marbleization, marbleize, marbleized, marbleizes, marbleizing,      marseillaise, marseille, marseilles, meioses, meiosis, meiotic,      monseigneur, mullein, mulleins, neither, nereid, nereides, nereids,      nereis, nisei, niseis, nonforfeitable, nonforfeiture, nonforfeitures,      nuclei, nucleic, nuclein, nucleoprotein, obeisance, obeisances, obeisant,      oneida, oneidas, onomatopoeia, onomatopoeic, onomatopoeically, osteitic,      osteitis, peignoir, peignoirs, peins, peiping, pharmacopeia,      pharmacopeias, pharmacopoeia, pharmacopoeias, phenolphthalein, plebeian,      plebeians, pleiades, pleistocene, poltergeist, poltergeists, poseidon,      preinaugural, preindustrial, preinsert, preinserted, preinserting,      preinserts, preinstruct, preinstructed, preinstructing, preinstruction,      preinstructs, preintimation, protein, proteinaceous, proteins, reich,      reified, reifier, reifiers, reifies, reify, reifying, reinter, reinters,      reivers, reiving, reveille, reveilles, ribonucleic, seborrhoeic, seidlitz,      seige, seigneur, seigneurage, seigneurs, seignior, seigniorage,      seigniorial, seigniors, seignorage, seignories, seignory, seine, seined,      seiner, seiners, seines, seining, seism, seismal, seismic, seismically,      seismicity, seismism, seismisms, seismogram, seismograms, seismograph,      seismographer, seismographers, seismographic, seismographs, seismography,      seismological, seismologist, seismologists, seismology, seismometer,      seismometers, seismometric, seisms, seisure, seizable, seize, seized,      seizer, seizers, seizes, seizing, seizings, seizins, seizor, seizors,      seizure, seizures, sheik, sheikdom, sheikdoms, sheikh, sheikhs, sheiks,      sheila, simultaneity, sobeit, sovereign, sovereignly, sovereigns,      sovereignties, sovereignty, speiled, spontaneity, stein, steins,      subnuclei, surfeit, surfeited, surfeiting, surfeits, surveil,      surveillance, surveillant, surveils, their, theirs, therein, thereinafter,      tracheids, unveil, unveiled, unveiling, unveils, ureic, veil, veiled,      veiledly, veiler, veilers, veiling, veilings, veils, vermeil, villein,      villeinage, weiner, weiners, weir, weird, weirder, weirdest, weirdie,      weirdies, weirdly, weirdness, weirdo, weirdoes, weirdos, weirds, weirdy,      weirs, wherein, whereinsoever, zeins, zeiss, zeitgeist.


  • Here are 102 words that break that portion of the      rule “i before e, except after c:” abortifacient, ancien, anciens,      ancient, ancienter, ancientest, anciently, ancientness, ancients,      bioscience, biosciences, bioscientist, boccie, calefacient, coefficient,      coefficients, cogencies, concierge, concierges, conscience,      conscienceless, consciences, conscientious, conscientiously,      conscientiousness, curacies, deficiencies, deficiency, deficient,      deficiently, delirifacient, efficiencies, efficiency, efficient, efficiently,      facie, facies, faience, faiences, farcies, financier, financiers,      gaieties, gaiety, geoscientist, geoscientists, glacier, glaciered,      glaciers, hacienda, haciendas, inefficiencies, inefficiency, inefficient,      inefficiently, insufficiencies, insufficiency, insufficient,      insufficiently, intersocietal, liquefacient, nascencies, nescient,      nescients, neuroscience, nonscientific, objicient, omniscience,      omniscient, omnisciently, overconscientious, prescience, prescient,      prescientific, proficiency, proficient, proficiently, pseudoscientific,      pseudoscientifically, science, sciences, scientific, scientifically,      scientist, scientistic, scientists, societal, societies, society, specie,      species, stupefacient, subspecies, sufficiencies, sufficiency, sufficient,      sufficiently, testacies, unconscientious, unconscientiously, unscientific,      unscientifically

And, lastly, in English one tells A lie, but tells THE truth.


Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.



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