Tag Archives: english as a nightmare language

Nanowrimo-ing Monkey #3 – English!!!!!

Hidey-Ho Scribblers – J Monkeys here coming at you from the very end of day 16 of 2012 Nanowrimo.  Don’t know about Nano?  Click here.  Of the 60,000 words I want to write in November, I’ve got 22,000 done so far. 

But here’s the thing…I write in English and sometimes that pesky language trips me up.  For example, last week, I read the book Sanctus (click here for my review – well, really more of an endorsement) had plenty of characters to route for.  Or rout for.  Or as it turns out, root for. 

Ooooooooh – the English language can be a nightmare!  Family lore says that of the four languages my great-grandfather spoke fluently, English was the hardest one for him to master.  I can see why.  I’ve blogged before about how our fine language got this way (click here) but man, those homophones kill me! 

Sure, I’ve got my its/it’s down pat and my there/their/they’re and my to/too/two, but it’s these less frequently used homophones that get me every time.  Homophones, for those who don’t remember their 4th grade grammar lessons, are words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings.  Check out the bit in Wikipedia – I did not know that homophones which are spelled differently are actually called heterographs. 

Route (as it turns out) is a path for traveling, rout is an overwhelming defeat and root can either be the part of a plant that leaches nutrients from the ground or a way of cheering someone on.  Seriously?!  How can one word (root) have two so different meanings?  Well, let’s not forget about “cleave” which is both a homonym and an antonym with it’s two meanings: to cling and to split.  Evidently we can blame the Germans for that one – both words are from Old High German. 

I’ve written before about my trouble with peek, peak and pique.  And grill/grille.  Don’t think spell check or even grammar check are going to help you there.  I can’t tell you how often grammar check wants me to use the wrong ‘there.’  Frustrating!

These crazy words and their meanings are particularly hard for beginning readers.  I’ve got one living in my house and we’ve developed a particular cheer for those times when English makes no sense at all.  Ready?

Make fists with both hands, raise them above your head, look down toward the floor and shake those fists yelling through clenched teeth, “Ennnnngliiiissshhhhhhhh!” 

Yes, I stole this coping technique from my friends the Peacocks (and yes, I borrowed their colorful last name for my pirate in The Peacock’s Tale).  I’ve borrowed another great English coping mechanism from them, too.   Rating words on a scale from everyday to never-to-be-used.  But that’ll be the topic of next week’s blog.  Stay tuned!

Today’s secret: I have a bachelor’s degree in English – meaning I’ve studied it longer than many folks – and it still trips me up!

Today’s question: what words trip you up?