Hugh Paxton’s Blog was born to speak English. Both my parents spoke it. It arrived with breast milk, comforting murmurs, distant gun fire (Arabs usually, evicting the British Empire – I note with despair that Yemen is still at war, I was born in Aden and for every year of my travelling life I’ve had passport problems and they are still killing each other! Half a century of massacres! All my life they’ve been killing themselves – how brainless is that!)
Back to English!: I just absorbed it en route from nappies to staggering first walks. Then started writing it. Listening to it. I have been awash with English all my life. I have studied it at Oxford, taught it in Norfolk to a sad stable of deprived and abused children. Their poetry made them proud. A good result. If I’d been inclined I would have stayed there being kind and made them all success stories. “That’s great!” “You are so clever!” “I really love that! Can you do one for me? I’ve never drawn a dragon like that, darling! I mean it, that’s just perfect!” Just a handful of words. But if nobody says them to you then you feel a bit unnoticed! Particularly if you are a small huddled unattractive little girl with a black eye and knickers in need of a wash.
Tokyo was next! Lots of English teaching there! Lots of money! The real estate bubble popped.
My daughter is fluent. And takes it for granted! As do I.
With typical English arrogance I’ve generally assumed everybody else in the world can speak English. Unless they are French. They can speak English. They just don’t want to! And everybody in England thinks a French man or woman speaking English with a French accent is sexy! Gawd help us! The frogs always miss a good opportunity.
Overall in my numerous travels I have found English to be the most useful thing I have when it comes to communication and, in all honesty, power.
Some well-meaning travelers attempt to be empathic and barge about being ethnic and trying to speak the local language. Fair enough. If being a fool and regarded with kind contempt is your plan, forge ahead! I’ve also noticed a rather ridiculous habit “broken English”. This generally involves middle aged women who are frightened of foreigners adopting a lame pidjin dialect, and deleting words like “the.” And adding words like “cool.”
Saying “That’s really cool. I’m cool with that. You are cool, and bath fixing. Need fix. Fix bath? That will be cool” bemuses the flying fuck out of a plumber who has spent seven years learning to speak proper English. When this occurs I just shrug. The plumber shrugs. No words necessary. It’s a bit unkind to dismiss somebody with a shrug when she’s trying her best to be courteous. If she spoke English I’d help. My daughter would just say “Hashtag: tourist saddo.” Then she’d say “ Daddy don’t say anything! Don’t get involved!”
Back to English!: If I had to learn the language I’d shoot myself before starting! It makes no sense whatsoever! Particularly phrases like “hash tag tourist saddo.”
“Daddy don’t say anything,” is reassuring! It is understandable!
Over to Andre! And his thoughts on our Lingua Franca!
From: Andre Gast [mailto:email@example.com]
Subject: FW: WHO Biennial Report
Today I have learnt the difference between biennial and biannual.
Even the spelling confuses the crap out of me. English can get complicated.
Dear Andre, don’t worry – Dr Islam still consistently refers to the Biannual Report. But if confusion is your thing, you might like this:
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via; Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation—think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough—
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!