Mobilize This! last wrote about clear language on July 13, 2010, and we feature clear language in our ResearchSnapshot research summaries (search the database here). But we have yet to feature mirth, whimsy, and jocularity… sorry, humour… about clear language. Until now.
This is at least third hand. I saw it on a plain language listserv (yes, there’s a listserv for everything – see below for more information). The person posting it on the listserv saw it on a blog here, where it was posted from a chain email. I have no idea where it started.
The bandage was wound around the wound.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
We must polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance for the invalid was invalid.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
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 or French fries in France. “Sweetmeats” are candies while “sweetbreads,” which aren’t sweet, are meat. 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”? If the plural of “tooth” is “teeth,” why isn’t the plural of “booth,” “beeth”? One “goose,” two “geese.” So one “moose,” two “meese”? One “index,” two “indices”? 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”? If a “vegetarian” eats vegetables, what does a “humanitarian” eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people “recite at a play” and “play at a recital”? “Ship by truck” and “send cargo by ship”? “Have noses that run” and “feet that smell”?
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.”
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.
P.S. Why doesn’t “Buick” rhyme with “quick”?