January 14, 2011

This Crazy Language

We all talk about writers' tools: strong verbs, few adverbs, concise adjectives, descriptive nouns... you get the idea. We spend enormous amounts of time and effort learning and studying the best ways to construct compelling stories out of the building blocks we've been given, namely, the words in the English language.
But have you ever stopped and really taken a look at just how confusing, random, and--well, just bizarre the English language can be? In some cases, it's just downright self-contradicting. And that can make life really hard for us writers! Here are some of my most 'favorite' examples.
~You can act 'nonchalant,' but you can't act 'chalant'.
~You may need to 'recuperate' after an illness... but when did you 'cuperate' in the first place?
~The word 'colonel'. And 'rendezvous'.
~'Noisy' means making lots of noise. 'Noisome' means irritating.
It's a wonder we even manage to learn to read, much less master the beast that is the English language enough to create a great story full of subtlety and subtexting and all those great and high arts of craft.
What are some of the English anomalies that give you trouble, make you laugh, or just leave you scratching your head?


  1. Well, let's see... I guess the words 'to' and 'too'. I don't have trouble with them, but I know a lot of people do. ''your'' and ''you're''. When I was younger I spelled daughter as 'doter', LOL! Laughter dosen't make sense, either. But the biggest problem for me is the 'i before e except after c' rule, because there are, of course, exceptions to that rule :) But as a whole, I think the English language is beautiful, and I enjoy it.
    P.S. Maybe that's why we writers are so crazy; we have to work with a crazy language that breaks all the rules it makes!
    --Laura Elizabeth

  2. I'm in grammar class right now. Oh, my, that's so true...

  3. Ugh. I dislike our language too. I'm partially dyslexic [inherited from my grandma, who is a terrible dyslexic], so I suffer from your/you're, there/their/they're [eeevvviiilll!], were/where, and other childish things. :-P

    ~Hannah Grace

  4. It's amazing how many common expressions that have their origins in sports or competitive games. "Touch base", "head start", and "upper hand" are just a few. Here's a link to a pretty good list:


  5. If you're not disgruntled, are you gruntled?

  6. if the doctor says, "i will be with you momentarily", and then leaves your presence, was that the extent of the visit?

  7. Hello, I'm new to your site here... just found you via "Walking in Thy Truth" blog.

    I love writing and look forward to finding tips to help me improve. I enjoyed reading your post here about English being a crazy language--because it is, indeed.

    One crazy little tidbit is apparently the word "definitely"... I always am particular when writing this word out, but quite often I'll see someone write the word "defiantly" in a sentence that I know they really meant "definitely" and had a typo. Sometimes it makes their statement sound a bit silly! Is it bad that I laugh at other people's mistakes?

    Off to read more of your blog,
    ~ Tarissa


What are your thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear your comments, questions, or ideas, even if you don't agree with me. Please be aware that I reserve the right to delete comments that are uncivil or vulgar, however.