You Think English is a Tough Language to Master?

By E. G. Sergoyan

You think English is easy to master?  Try it as a second language later in your life.  You will immediately realize that English is a crazy collection of Anglo-Saxon slang, Norse and Germanic peculiarities, some dead Latin phraseology and all of it mixed together with archaic word structure.  You would think English would be constructed easier for an immigrant to master.  It is after all, considered the first international language (the French are really pissed about this!).  It is after all used by people around the world and formally required for all professionals from diplomats to airline pilots.  But in fact, it is considered one of the three hardest languages to learn for a non-native (in the running for most difficult are Japanese and some Chinese dialects).  Let’s face it – English is crazy to a foreigner – a language shrouded in endless exceptions, conditions and just plain stupid perturbations.  It is a language where words are put together that have no place in the same sentence and rarely accurately describe the subject in hand.  You think I’m exaggerating?!!

For example, there is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, and no apple or pine in pineapple.  The Anglos did not create the English muffin, and the French want nothing to do with French fries.  Sweetbreads are not sweet or bread but they are meat (and don’t confuse it with sweetmeat which is candy).  Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

We take the language as defined by ‘experts’ and refuse to explore the paradoxes that plunge us into confusion.  We have become so conditioned to accept the exceptions, we refuse to ask any questions.  Writers write but fingers do not fing, grocers do not groce and hammers do not ham.  

Then there is the whole issue of plurals.  If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth?  If it is one goose and two geese, then why not one moose, two meese?  Doesn’t it bother you that you can make amends but not one amend?  If you have odds and ends, and get rid of all but two of them, what do you call that?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?  If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?  It’s no wonder that English speakers are nervous putting together a sentence.  One immigrant as frustrated as I, gave me this example - ‘The door is ajar.’ Hold on! Wait a minute, the door is a door and a jar is a jar – what does this sentence mean?  In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?  It possible that only in English that noses can run and feet can smell.

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same thing?  Does it bother anyone that a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?  We must all marvel at a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you can fill in a form by filling it out, and in where an alarm goes off by going on.

The English contradictions are endless  children are asked to believe that when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible – come on, give me a break!

And then, there is the continuing problem of single words with multiple meanings: here are a few examples that can lead any writer into a bramble, particularly if English is not your first choice for literary communication.

  • 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 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 was invalid for the 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.

  • A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

  • 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 crazy and writers who write English text are the craziest.









About The Author

E.G. Sergoyan holds degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering and has been involved in the aerospace industry for over forty years. Since the days of Apollo he has worked for a variety of aerospace companies and participated in many of the major space research projects. For the past twenty years, Mr. Sergoyan has been a Boeing senior engineer in Seattle, developing technology to improve aircraft manufacturing. He is a Boeing Designated Expert (BDE) in measurement systems and has a dozen patent awards and numerous technical publications. The stories in The Gathering Place come from interviews with friends and family. The book is his first non-technical publication. Mr. Sergoyan and his wife live in Mukilteo, Washington, with family nearby. He spends his spare time enjoying the mountains and underwater scenery in the American Northwest, hand knotting oriental rugs on a Tabriz loom, and playing tennis. More at: