An Ode Of English Plural.

mini-Canon - July 2, 2008 187

Since I was a young child I have assiduously studied the Canadian English language. Much of my love for learning and study was inspired by my grandmother and mother. As a very young widow, following the death of my grandfather, my grandmother trained in Ontario to become an elementary teacher. Once she received her Teaching Certificate, around 1910, she taught on the Canadian Prairies – in small, often, one room school houses in and around Brandon, Manitoba and Estevan, Saskatchewan. She later retired to Vancouver, BC – British Columbia, Canada.

During the time she was teaching, my grandmother was raising her three small children, alone: a son who later, at age 12, fell on the ice while playing ice hockey – and, suffered permanent, irreversible brain damage and was sent back to Ontario to live out his life in a group home; a daughter who at age 12 contracted and died from rheumatic fever; and my own mother. So, my mother was also heavily educated and influenced from a very young age, and later had aspirations of being a teacher, herself.

When I was first born, I was my grandmother’s first grandchild and my mother’s first child; one that they raised themselves. These two ladies put a great deal of focus on me, and my education. At one time, when I was eight years old, they were talking with me and, observing that I had rather squarish hands, decided that I should be a surgeon. High, high expectations, indeed! Mother had already set aside $3,000 for me and my younger brothers and sister’s education (I was the eldest of four young children). What do I know. Nope, never happened, everything went wrong that year, in 1952, when mom died.

Yet, a philomath had been born, My love of learning and the English language never diminished. Albeit, it did diminish a bit, in my transformative teenage years.

Sixty years ago, in my far distant past I remember trying to figure out plurals; the rules don’t seem to make sense. Perhaps there are no rules. You’ll enjoy the following. It might help:

An Ode Of English Plural.

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes 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,
Yet 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 speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And 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?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren’t invented in England.
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing,
grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?
Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship…
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and
in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother’s not Mop?

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