Thursday, July 18, 2013

More Fun to Read than Dr. Seuss

Not sure why, but I've never heard of the poem "The Chaos" by Gerard Nolst Trenité (Netherlands, 1870-1946). Thanks to Daughter Number Three-Point-One for sharing it with me.

Very fun to read aloud:

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!
The pronunciation insights I got from reading this:
  • Gunwale -- I had no idea it wasn't pronounced "gunwail."
  • Groats -- is it really pronounced "grits"? That seems to be the implication here. I knew that "victuals" is pronounced "vittles," but I guess the "grotes" are "grits," too.
  • Dost -- okay, maybe it sounds familiar to pronounce it "dust," but when I saw it that wasn't what I thought.
  • Query -- it seems to sound okay to me when pronounced to rhyme with "very." But also pronounced as "queery." But then again, I also think Mary, marry, and merry are all pronounced the same, too.
 I can't help pointing out that I knew how to pronounce:
  • Terpsichore (although I only learned it last year because it's the name of a peony variety)
  • Viscount
  • Melpomene
Finally, the poem reminds me of this wonderful point: people who mispronounce ten-dollar words need an extra hug because their errors mean they learned the words from reading them. They read them -- they've never known anyone who uses these words out loud, but they're brave enough to use them in a conversation.

Readers know how to use big words in a sentence, but not how to say them because they're readers. We should be praised, not reproofed, for our errors.


Michael Leddy said...

This is delightful. I remember being corrected by a student many years ago when we were reading “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: heifer is pronounced heffer, not hyffer. Who knew? I had only read the word, and knowing what it meant, I never thought to look it up.

For a time, I thought Goethe rhymed with both. And more recently my son thought Nietzsche rhymed with rich.

peppery said...

Wonderful. And thanks--now I'm clear on the proper pronunciation of Terpsichore and Melpomene. Curse those tricky Greeks!

peppery said...

Wonderful. And thanks--now I'm clear on the proper pronunciation of Terpsichore and Melpomene. Curse those tricky Greeks!