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Why English Makes No Sense -“The Chaos,” Documents 800 Irregularities in English Spelling and Pronunciation


"The Chaos" is a poem illustrating the inconsistencies of English spelling and pronunciation. Crafted by Dutch writer, traveller, and educator Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870–1946), using the pseudonym Charivarius, it showcases approximately 800 instances of irregular spelling. Initially, a 146-line version debuted as an appendix in the author's 1920 textbook "Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen." However, the most comprehensive version, comprising 274 lines, was released by the Spelling Society in 1993–94 and is deemed the definitive edition.


The history of the poem, as told expertly in the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society (JSSS) in 1994, shows how it travelled around Europe, in pieces, confounding and bedevilling aspiring English speakers.


Packed with homonyms, loanwords, and words that once mirrored their spelling, the poem's fifty-eight stanzas represent a brilliant and exhaustive "concordance of cacographic chaos," according to the JSSS. Esteemed by linguists and English historians, it has transformed into a cult favourite among language enthusiasts worldwide since its republication in 1994.



For a genuinely interesting write up (far better than I could ever do) scroll to the end of this page and read what Chris Upward from the Simplified Spelling Society has to say about it.


This is the full poem, take a deep breath and dive in.


Gerard Nolst Trenité - The Chaos (1922)

Dearest creature in creation

Studying 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 you'll tear;

Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.


Pray, console your loving poet,

Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, hear 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: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,


Previous, precious, fuchsia, via

Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;

Woven, oven, how and low,

Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.


Say, expecting fraud and trickery:

Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,

Missiles, similes, reviles.


Wholly, holly, signal, signing,

Same, examining, but mining,

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

Solar, mica, war and far.


From "desire": desirable-admirable from "admire",

Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,

Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,

Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,


One, anemone, Balmoral,

Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.

Gertrude, German, wind and wind,

Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,


Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,

Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth

Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.


Have you ever yet endeavoured

To pronounce revered and severed,

Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,

Peter, petrol and patrol?


Billet does not end like ballet;

Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.



Banquet is not nearly parquet,

Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

Discount, viscount, load and broad,

Toward, to forward, to reward,


Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?

Right! Your pronunciation's OK.

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?

Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.

Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,

Buoyant, minute, but minute.


Say abscission with precision,

Now: position and transition;

Would it tally with my rhyme

If I mentioned paradigm?


Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,

But cease, crease, grease and greasy?

Cornice, nice, valise, revise,

Rabies, but lullabies.


Of such puzzling words as nauseous,

Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,

You'll envelop lists, I hope,

In a linen envelope.


Would you like some more? You'll have it!

Affidavit, David, davit.

To abjure, to perjure. Sheik

Does not sound like Czech but ache.


Liberty, library, heave and heaven,

Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People, leopard, towed but vowed.


Mark the difference, moreover,

Between mover, plover, Dover.

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice, but police and lice,


Camel, constable, unstable,

Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, penal, and canal,

Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,


Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit

Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",

But it is not hard to tell

Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.


Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,

Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor,


Ivy, privy, famous; clamour

Has the a of drachm and hammer.

Pussy, hussy and possess,

Desert, but desert, address.


Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants

Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,

Cow, but Cowper, some and home.


"Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker",

Quoth he, "than liqueur or liquor",

Making, it is sad but true,

In bravado, much ado.


Stranger does not rhyme with anger,

Neither does devour with clangour.

Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,

Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.


Arsenic, specific, scenic,

Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.

Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,

Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.


Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,

Make the latter rhyme with eagle.

Mind! Meandering but mean,

Valentine and magazine.



And I bet you, dear, a penny,

You say mani-(fold) like many,

Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,

Tier (one who ties), but tier.


Arch, archangel; pray, does erring

Rhyme with herring or with stirring?

Prison, bison, treasure trove,

Treason, hover, cover, cove,


Perseverance, severance. Ribald

Rhymes (but piebald doesn't) with nibbled.

Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,

Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.


Don't be down, my own, but rough it,

And distinguish buffet, buffet;

Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,

Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.


Say in sounds correct and sterling

Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.

Evil, devil, mezzotint,

Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)


Now you need not pay attention

To such sounds as I don't mention,

Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,

Rhyming with the pronoun yours;


Nor are proper names included,

Though I often heard, as you did,

Funny rhymes to unicorn,

Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.


No, my maiden, coy and comely,

I don't want to speak of Cholmondeley.

No. Yet Froude compared with proud

Is no better than McLeod.


But mind trivial and vial,

Tripod, menial, denial,

Troll and trolley, realm and ream,

Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.


Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely

May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,

But you're not supposed to say

Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.


Had this invalid invalid

Worthless documents? How pallid,

How uncouth he, couchant, looked,

When for Portsmouth I had booked!


Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,

Paramour, enamoured, flighty,

Episodes, antipodes,

Acquiesce, and obsequies.


Please don't monkey with the geyser,

Don't peel 'taters with my razor,

Rather say in accents pure:

Nature, stature and mature.


Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,

Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,

Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,

Wan, sedan and artisan.


The th will surely trouble you

More than r, ch or w.

Say then these phonetic gems:

Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,


There are more but I forget 'em-

Wait! I've got it: Anthony,

Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit


Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;

With and forthwith, one has voice,

One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;


Then say: singer, ginger, linger.

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,

Parry, tarry fury, bury,

Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.


Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,

Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners

Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

Puisne, truism, use, to use?



Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual,

Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

Put, nut, granite, and unite.


Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,

Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,


Science, conscience, scientific;

Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,


Next omit, which differs from it

Bona fide, alibi

Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,


Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion with battalion,


Rally with ally; yea, ye,

Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,

Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.


Never guess-it is not safe,

We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,


Crevice, but device, and eyrie,

Face, but preface, then grimace,

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.


Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;

Ear, but earn; and ere and tear

Do not rhyme with here but heir.


Mind the o of off and often

Which may be pronounced as orphan,

With the sound of saw and sauce;

Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.


Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?

Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

Respite, spite, consent, resent.

Liable, but Parliament.


Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,

Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,

Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.


A of valour, vapid vapour,

S of news (compare newspaper),

G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,

I of antichrist and grist,


Differ like diverse and divers,

Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.

Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,

Polish, Polish, poll and poll.


Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-

Is a paling, stout and spiky.

Won't it make you lose your wits

Writing groats and saying "grits"?


It's a dark abyss or tunnel

Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington, and Isle of Wight,

Housewife, verdict and indict.


Don't you think so, reader, rather,

Saying lather, bather, father?

Finally, which rhymes with enough,

Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??


Hiccough has the sound of sup...

My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

 



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