The Reverend Frederic Wagstaff wrote an article in The Boy's Own Paper for Saturday, June 24th, 1882, entitled, "Some Oddities of Speech". In it, he mentions the difficulties arising out of the varying pronunciation of words ending in ough. He gives an example of the world plough which we call plow; but explains that we mustn't say we have a bad cow when we mean cough. Similarly, we mustn't say that bread is made of doff when we mean dough; nor that ground is row when we mean rough. All this reminded me of a poem on spelling which I copied from a book in the Library at Chichester College of Arts, Science and Technology when I did a secretarial training opportunities (TOPS) course about 28 years ago. (It was a great course, not only did I benefit from re-training, I got paid for doing it as well!).
In case you have not come across the poem before, here is the version I copied.
SpellingI remember being very mean and promising my children, then aged ten and eleven years old, £5 if they could read that poem perfectly. Of course, they couldn't!
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, lough, and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sound like bird,
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -
For goodness sake don't call it "deed"!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart -
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five.
The Reverend Wagstaff also mentioned the difficulties of forming plural terminations and gave us this 'aid to memory' by an unknown writer.
Remember though box in the plural makes boxes,Yes, English is an odd, eccentric language - but I like it!
The plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
And remember, though fleece in the plural is fleeces,
That the plural of goose isn't gooses nor geeses.
And remember, though house in the plural is houses,
The plural of mouse should be mice, not mouses.
Mouse, it is true, in the plural is mice,
But the plural of house should be houses, not hice
And foot, it is true, in the plural is feet,
But the plural of root should be roots, and not reet.