Wacky Words

For most of us, the process of learning English happened at a time of life when we weren’t as inclined to question the rationale behind unreasonable (and sometimes ridiculous) spellings.

But, consider the task of trying your tongue at English as an outsider, whether tourist or immigrant.

Here’s a simple sentence to put it in perspective:

“I would like to buy a certain fruit for my recipe.”

Easy for you to read, right?

Now, read through it as someone who may know the basic RULES of English, but doesn’t yet grasp the commonly accepted American notion of tossing all of those rules out the window …

“I wooled like to bu-yee a kertane froo-it for my re-sipe.”

Something like that, anyway.

photo by Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons

While it’s tough not to chuckle, you can see how utterly frustrating it must be to decipher the everyday dialog we take for granted.

“While there are clear trends in words non-native speakers mispronounce (due to irregularities in English spelling), words that are in principle hard to pronounce depend much more heavily on each individual speaker’s linguistic background,” explains Czech linguist and mathematician Jakub Marian, author of Most Common Mistakes in English. “Words containing an ‘h’ (as in ‘hello’) are difficult to pronounce for native speakers of romance languages and Russian, since there is no ‘h’-sound in their mother tongues. Words containing a ‘th’-sound (either as in ‘think’ or as in that’) are hard for almost everybody apart from Spaniards and Greeks, whose languages are two of the few that contain those sounds.”

Now that your word wheels are spinning with this new perspective, try a few more words that Marian and many others deem difficult for non-native speakers:

  • Anemone
  • Colonel
  • Comfortable
  • Drawer
  • Fruit
  • Height
  • Isthmus
  • Lettuce
  • Recipe
  • Rural
  • Sixth
  • Squirrel

P.S. Allow me to punctuate this post with a poem called “The Chaos” by Gerard Nolst Trenité in 1922. It brilliantly boasts hundreds of peculiar English pronunciations.

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Samson might inspire this in you, ladies … or Fabio. Possibly Jennifer Aniston … or Carrot Top. Marge Simpson, definitely. Crystal Gale? For sure.

book cover by Katalin Szegedi via Wikimedia Commons


What is it? By now, you’ve figured out it’s something to do with the follicles atop one’s head. Specifically,

(n.) running your fingers through the hair of someone you love.
Pronunciation: ka-FOO-nay

So, it begs the question, do balding men inspire the same kind of odd behavior in those of us smitten with them? If we can’t run our fingers through the hairs of our beloveds, will a nice rub or caress do the trick?

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Someone get Mrs. Bruce Willis on the phone. Tell her it’s an emergency of the cafune type.

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One who dabbles in … er, sock collecting?

One who loves socks a bit too much?

Photo by Shuminweb via Wikimedia Commons.

noun, Older Slang.

  1. something unusually large, heavy, etc.
  2. a decisive reply, argument, etc.
  3. a heavy, finishing blow:

Example: His right jab is a real sockdolager.

In other words, it’s a real doozy of a closing argument, getting the last word, or in today’s slang, a mic drop.

Lest we find ourselves giggling too much at our funny-sounding new word, let me bring you some sorrowful solemnity: sockdologising likely was nearly the last word President Abraham Lincoln ever heard. During the performance of Tom Taylor’s “Our American Cousin,” assassin John Wilkes Booth (who knew the play well) waited for the laughline,

Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old mantrap!” 

Amid the noise as the audience responded in laughter and applause, Booth fired the fatal shot.

Sniffle. Well, now it’s my heart that feels unusually heavy … almost sockdolager-esque you could say.

Lincoln in ‘thinking pose’, 1862, via Wikimedia Commons

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