English is a Crazy Language – Explained

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This is a famous piece that has been floating around the internet for years. The problem is that if you are not a native speaker of English, then this probably makes next to no sense. I have decided to break it down for my students out there in non-English speaking countries. If you are a teacher then you can help to make this intelligible to your class and teach them quite a lot of English in the process.

I’ve written this out in a way as to have the original text and then an area in between with my explanation for what something means or why it is so crazy. Shall we begin?

English is a Crazy Language

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 or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

  • Sweetmeats – Sweet sugary food like candy and some kinds of pastries.
  • Sweetbreads – The culinary name for meat that comes from organs.

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.

  • Quicksand – Often used in movies and TV shows as a slow death. It is sand that swallows people up. In reality, people would not be completely covered but it can trap you and you could die.


And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese… One blouse, 2 blice?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch
of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

  • Make amends- To try to do something to correct a mistake or bad situation that you have caused.
  • Comb through annals of history- Search through historical records of history
  • Bunch of odds and ends- Bits and pieces of stuff

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

  • What does a humanitarian eat? – This is an old joke. Because a vegetarian eats vegetables then a humanitarian must eat humans. The real meaning of humanitarian is someone who is generous and tries to help stop human suffering. A very famous humanitarian is Mother Teresa.

Humanitarian Mother Teresa

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

  • Recite at a play – Say lines during a play.
  • Play at a recital – Play a musical instrument at a musical performance.
  • Driveway – Place in front of garage where you park your car.
  • Parkway – This is a highway.

How can a “slim chance” and a “fat chance” be the same, while a “wise man” and “wise guy” are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while “quite a lot” and “quite a few” are alike? How can the weather be “hot as hell” one day and “cold as hell” another?

  • Slim chance – Very little chance of something happening
  • Fat chance– Very little chance of something happening
  • Wise man– A very smart and knowledgeable man
  • Wise guy– Someone who is always telling jokes or not taking things seriously
  • Overlook – To miss seeing something. “He overlooked the important fact that the land belonged to someone else.”
  • Oversee – To supervise a group of people.

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who are spring chickens or who would actually hurt a fly?

  • Horseful carriage- When cars first came out they were referred to as “horseless carriages.”
  • Strapful gown- We say “strapless gown.”
  • Sung hero- The term “unsung hero” refers to someone who has done great deeds but receives little or no recognition for them.
  • Requited love – Unrequited love means that you love someone but it is not returned.

He wouldnt hurt a fly

  • Discombobulated – Confused and disconcerted or frustrated.
  • Disgruntled – Angry or dissatisfied.
  • Unruly – Disorderly and not following rules such as ‘unruly children.”
  • Impeccable – Faultless, keeping with the highest standard, usually about character or appearance.
  • I’m no spring chicken. – I’m not that young anymore.
  • He wouldn’t hurt a fly – He is a very peaceful guy.

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 clock goes off by going on.

  • Burn up – Be destroyed by heat.
  • Burns down – Be destroyed by heat.
  • Fill in – To write in information such as name, address or other things on a form.
  • Fill out – To write in information such as name, address or other things on a form.
  • Goes off – An alarm goes off by sounding. For example, “He set his alarm to go off at 6 in the morning.”

Alarm goes off ESL

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?

  • The stars are out. – Means we can see them twinkling in the sky
  • The light is out. – Means it is not turned on.

The stars are out

Crazy English Explained, I Hope

As you can see the original text is quite confusing. Imagine trying to explain this to a bunch of non-native English learners. Come to think of it, I hopefully did just that.

Do you have any other weird or hard to understand expressions you need explained? leave a message in the comments below and I’ll get right on it.

Till then and keep having fun as you learn or teach English to others. Because Teaching English is Fun!



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