06 August 2023

English, English

exceedingly handsome Leigh Lundin

Romance writer friend Sharon sent me English usage questions to ponder, which sparked a discussion. I’ll share some of our notes.

  • Double negatives are a no-no.
  • In the word scent, which letter is silent, the S or the C?
  • Isn’t spelling the word queue just a Q followed by four silent letters?
  • When abbreviating refrigerator as fridge, why does a D appear?
  • If womb and tomb are pronounced ‘woom’ and ‘toom’, shouldn’t bomb be pronounced ‘boom’?
  • What is the pronunciation rule for words ending in ‘ough’? I.e, tough, through, thorough, dough, cough, bough?
  • And what about bow, row, and sow that rhyme with how; and bow, row, and sow that rhyme with low?
  • And why is read pronounced like lead and read pronounced like lead?
  • Sharon’s correspondent says the pronunciations of Kansas and Arkansas trouble her more than it should.
  • And why are all three letter ‘A’s in Australia pronounced differently? And likewise two letter ‘A’s in Stephen Ross’ New Zealand?
  • Why do bologna and bony rhyme?
  • Even if it’s spelled baloney, why doesn’t it rhyme with money?
  • In childhood, I fretted that ‘W’ should be called double-V instead of double-U. (French and Spanish pronounced ‘W’ as double-vĂ© and doble ve respectively.)

And finally…

  • How do you console a sobbing English teacher ready to throw in the towel? “There, their, they’re.”

Wait, Wait…

Notes and jokes for those techies out there who pronounce the ‘www’ of World Wide Web as “Dub-dub-dub.”

  • The three most common languages in India are Hindi, English, and JavaScript.
  • Many people in India know 11 languages: Hindi, English, and JavaScript.

What is your favorite Engish quirk?

It’s unfair not to explain ‘in’ jokes. The punchword 11 refers to binary: In English, we count 1, 2, 3, but in binary we count 1, 10, 11.


  1. My favorite quirks are words that have two meanings, one the exact opposite of the other: cleave, for example. Sanction and custom are two more. And, in Tudor English, "let' meant both to prevent and to allow.

  2. Another is citation. Eve, I believe those curious quirks are called contranyms or contronyms. Recently I came across the term of Janus words. I like that.

    Ellis Peters indicated the word 'doubt' in the Middle Ages meant the opposite of today's meaning.

    1. When I was a government information librarian I was helping a student who worked for an environmental agency. I told him he needed citations and he looked startled. "In my business you want to AVOID citations!"

    2. Rob, I also try to avoid citations from police. They ain't healthy!

  3. Fun post, Leigh! I add my own name to the list: Melodie. The two 'e's are pronounced differently. And I love your English teacher joke! could have used that in my last year of teaching...grin. Melodie

    1. You're right, Melodie. Now that you've drawn my attention to it, how many letters in my name are silent?

    2. Sue Grafton's "W" title is "W Is For Wasted;" some time beforehand, in a fan letter, I'd suggested "W Is For Double-Cross," but wiser heads prevailed.


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