Ten things that Bug Me About English

This year, I teach a combination of civics, social, and academic skills to seventh and eight graders and I get a queasy feeling when I teach them how to best do homework. This is because I believe that homework does more harm than good. Last year, I would get a similar feeling as a second grade teacher every time I had to pretend that the English language made some sort of sense. I taught all sorts of awkward “rules” forced out of coincidences in the language even though I knew the rules were inconsistent and due to their complexity were unlikely to be remembered.

I think that English spelling and grammar is something a person can develop an intuitive feeling for, but is foolish to try to make too much sense out of.

To pretend otherwise to children seems dishonest. What if you were a science teacher and were instructed to teach that the world is flat? Eventually, you would either convince yourself that the world was flat, or develop a stomach ailment from the stress of promoting a falsehood to developing minds. My guess is that there are a lot of English teachers who are sick to their stomachs.

Here is my list of top ten things that bug me about the English language. The alternative title is:

Why You Should Be Suspicious of Everything Adults Tell You

  1. I can’t say, “I are going to the store,” but I can say, “Aren’t I going to the store?”
  2. We all learned, “I before e, except after c,” but it doesn’t hold true for any weird words.
  3. By itself, the letter “c” has choice of sounds, both of which are already in use by the letters “s” and “k”. To make its own, unique sound, “c” needs the helper letter “h,” as in “ch”. I believe that “c” should assert its independence and just make the “ch” sound without any help from “h”.
  4. What’s with “ph” making an “f” sound? That’s just dumb.
  5. There should be a gender neutral pronoun to take the place of “he,” “she,” “him,” and “her”. Why are we so obsessed with gender identification that we can’t just refer to a person without defining his or her gender? I’m tired of writing “him or her” or “s/he”.
  6. Periods are supposed to go inside inside quotation marks almost all the time. Very few people ever understand that the arbitrary exception is when there is a single word, letter, or number, as in some of my previous sentences, above. This, again, is “dumb”.
  7. Why can’t we just always add an “s” to make something plural? What’s up with “child,” “goose,” “mouse,” “story,” and “moose”?  I’d be willing to go with an “es” for those words already ending in “s”.
  8. A “silent e” makes a short vowel long… sometimes. Please disregard all the letters behind the curtain, such as “none,” “love,” “come,” and “one”. (What’s up with “one,” by the way… where’s the “w”?)
  9. I actually taught this rule to second graders: “When it’s time to add suffixes, most words just add -ed or -ing. For words ending in silent e, drop the e, then add -ed or -ing. For words ending in one vowel and one consonant, double the final consonant, then add -ed or -ing. For words ending in y, change the y to i, then add -es or -ed but to add -ing, keep the y.” Why? Because we told you. First of all, it’s not always true (“see” doesn’t become “seed”) and second of all, if any of my second graders from last year actually remember that rule this year, there is something seriously abnormal about them.
  10. Short vowel words, like “pin,” usually have just one vowel, and long vowel words, such as “pain,” usually have two vowels in them. This is another rule I taught my students. What is the point of a “rule” that has the word “usually” in it? Student: “When is it true, Teacher?”  Teacher: “Some of the time.”

These are actually just the first ten examples that come to mind. I’m sure you can think of countless others. The alleged rules of English are one of the first things we are tasked to learn in school. I think our message to children is: “We make the rules. They make no sense. They are only true some of the time. You will look dumb if you don’t follow them unquestioningly.”

I know that English is an organic, evolving language handed down from generations of people who infused it with ways of speaking from other languages. However, why can’t we be masters of our own language? Why must we blindly accept the inherited dictates of our very means of communication? We treat language as if it were sacrosanct – a precious tool lent from above that we have no right to alter or bring order to. I say, it’s our language, we should make it work for us, not vice versa. It’s time to unleash reason upon our words.

Clicking the following daisy will take you to a post I like to call Word Playtocracy:

dasy

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12 Responses to Ten things that Bug Me About English

  1. Jeffersonic. (DSK) says:

    Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

    Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock florist. Disc ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck wetter putty ladle rat hut, end fur disc raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut. -H.L. Chace

  2. George says:

    I stumbled into your site by chance and I loved “Ten things that Bug Me About English”: it shed light on something I always had had in my mind, albeit not so clear. And made me think about it.
    Actually, when you teach language rules you pretend that language comes from the rules, while we all know that the opposite is true. As it is true that language is far from “perfect”, can easily be ambiguous and it is necessarily different from person to person, because every person that uses (and used )it contributes to it: every person that strives to express the new concepts, thoughts, feelings that flow in every moment of his/her life.
    From those countless contributions language came to us, and slowly changes every day. That is why in the language kingdom usage is king, standards and rules are very weak and difficult to enforce. Luckily! Because the very reasons (the countless contributions) for the weakness of language are the same that make it so rich and so powerful. Expression, though, is just half of the game: the ones who express themselves want to be understood. Expression is at the service of communication, and communication is impossible without (at least some) standards and rules. “Wild” expression would entail no communication.
    At times, some of those contributors find new, beautiful ways of expressing what they feel, and succeed in telling us much more and beyond the mere words and rules they use (and stretch): that is poetry.
    May I joke with an example of the need for rules?

    http://www.elearnenglishlanguage.com/difficulties/lighteninglightning.html

    P.S.
    By the way: forgive any imperfection in my English, as it is not my native language.

    • EricIndiana says:

      I am surprised that English is not your native language, because you express yourself very well in/with it. You are absolutely right in your perspective on rules verses usage. I neglected to mention in my post that although I am annoyed by the attempts at rules, I love the language. I love language in general, and I have fun with English.

      • bracketbracket says:

        English was not William F. Buckley’s first language either, and he talked good.

        • IBF/TDKs says:

          My late aunt was Italian, and one of my best friends is Dutch – both of them speak/spoke English far better than I do and I grew up with the language!

          Everyday English has been left by the wayside by its own people. :(

          • EricIndiana says:

            I noticed that about the Dutch when I was there in the 80s. I always wondered if there was something about their language that made perfect English with an American accent easier for them than for others.

  3. bracketbracket says:

    Inconsistencies and contradictions are prerequisites for vibrance. Long-lived documents, such as the Bible and US Constitution, thrive on their multi-interpretability. Fixed, consistent, clear systems have no staying power, they’re ossified and frozen in place. Inconsistency is the heart of art. Semiconductors are not made with pure silicon. They’re made from silicon that is “doped” with impurities such as Germanium. Part of what I like about myself is that I have little idea what I’ll do next.

  4. IBF/TDKs says:

    From Listverse :)
    Regarding your comment on non-gender, “hir” is a “new language” acceptable as an alternative to “they”.

    I see a lot of your points and agree that language should be a fluid thing, though I believe that there should be an upheld standard of quality at least. It quite literally (See what I did there? Hehehe!) makes me sick when I see people writing “lyk” and “ryt” for example. As for punctuation, we’ve lost the way. Very few people know how to correctly use a semi-colon and fewer still could tell you what a “tilde” is. Is it too much to ask just to keep capital letters?

    *sigh*

  5. Doreen Van Assen says:

    As for the Dutch, possibly in the genes. I am merely half dutch and half mexican adopted as an infant by a father one quarter german and mother ? Well with no social upbringing to my gene pool I am smart in english. I scored 99 out of possible 100 on college entrance exam at age 31.

  6. Doreen Van Assen says:

    My father (quarter german) I was told by a college algebra classmate that happened to work with my father that he was the smartest nuclear physicist he had ever met. lol my father has only sixth grade education then ged. Job title toxic material handler supervisor. He had to actually invent tools to dispose of some things safely. Create 1000 page manuals on everything to do with toxic chemicals. lol he told me he did not have to know how to spell his laptop had spell check.

  7. Doreen Van Assen says:

    This predictive text on cell phone would be so useful to him on the computer keyboard too because he types with one finger.

  8. [...] Ten things that Bug Me About English [...]

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