That pernicious head-cold still has its icy tentacles wrapped around my sinuses, so I have delved into my bag of tricksy magical stuff and come up with this:
The English Lesson (version one)
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox should be oxen not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I spoke of my foot and showed you my feet,
When I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular is this, and the plural is these,
Why shouldn’t the plural of kiss be kese?
Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
So plurals in English, I think you’ll agree,
Are indeed very tricky–singularly.
The English Lesson (version two)
Now if mouse in the plural should be, and is, mice,
Then house in the plural, of course, should be hice,
And grouse should be grice and spouse should be spice
And by the same token should blouse become blice.
And consider the goose with its plural of geese;
Then a double caboose should be called a cabeese,
And noose should be neese and moose should be meese
And if mama’s papoose should be twins, it’s papeese.
Then if one thing is that, while some more is called those,
Then more than one hat, I assume, would be hose,
And gnat would be gnose and pat would be pose,
And likewise the plural of rat would be rose.
– By that perennial and prolific author – Unknown
“Not only does the English Language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets” — Eddy Peters or Booker T Washington – depending on where you read it.
This always makes me very, very grateful that English is my mother tongue!
I’ve always believed ‘meeces’ is the correct plural of mice!
It certainly reflects the munted, muddled, borrowed-and-bludgeoned roots of the English language. Like cat (above) I’ve always been glad to have learned the vagaries of English as a native speaker and not had to learn it as a second language. I am always amazed and impressed how people from logical languages, or very differently constructed languages, are able to speak and understand English well.
One could also say, though, that it is the very adaptable and flexible nature of the English language that has made it the predominant language on Earth. It has borrowed from many languages, so many nationalities can find something familiar in it (even as they grit their teeth about meese and blice). It evolves and adapts – every year they add new words to the dictionary. It can be slanged and colloquialised. It speaks in subcultures and ethnic adaptations.
For every rule, you can find an exception. Except i before e except after c.
Unfortunately 123, that rule falls too: I didn’t realise there were this many words until I did a quick search … very depressing ‘cos I grew up with it too!
beige, cleidoic, codeine, conscience, deify, deity, deign, dreidel, eider, eight, (eighty, eighteen etc) either, feign, feint, feisty, foreign, forfeit, freight, gleization, gneiss, greige, greisen, heifer, heigh-ho, height, heinous, heir, heist, leitmotiv, neigh, neighbor, neither, peignoir, prescient, rein, science, seiche, seidel, seine, seismic, seize, sheik, society, sovereign, surfeit, teiid, veil, vein, weight, weir, weird
hahaha…it makes me wonder if the same problem exists in other languages.
Yeah, scary thought huh?
It’s a wonder we ever remember all of this. I loved it when they would teach you all of these “rules” in English and then proceed to explain all of the exceptions. I always wondered why their nuggets of information could still be called rules with such lengthy lists of ‘except-fors’ 🙂
I learned more from all the science fiction and adventure books I read as a young ‘un than I ever did at school.