I’ve been thinking about odd words again. It’s a hazard of the job, and I could probably get tablets for it, I know, but there it is!
What kind of odd words? Well, the sort that don’t follow the rules, or do something other than what you expect. And English is full of them!
Words like mouse and house – mice, yes, everyone knows that, but why is it not hice when there is more than one house?
Foot becomes feet, boot becomes simply boots. And why are there words like child and person which bear no resemblance to their plurals of children and people at all?
And then of course there are words like fish and sheep, which remain the same no matter how many of them there are. Unless you’re talking to a small child, in which case fishies and sheepies… but I’ll not go there.
OK, enough with the plurals.
My sister pointed out an interesting anomaly with a couple of familiar verbs recently. I ring a bell. Yesterday I rang a bell, and you rung the bell. So far, so straightforward. Today I ring a bird for identification purposes, assuming I’m with the RSPB. But yesterday the bird was ringed, not rung – and the RSPB would want to know if it was wrung, I’m sure!
The same goes for hang as well, interestingly. I hang a picture. Yesterday you hung a picture. But in the days of corporal punishment, criminals were hanged, not hung.
There are a few words which mean, or seem to mean, opposite things.
‘He’s quite nice’, meaning he’s OK, but nothing special. As opposed to ‘He’s quite the nicest man I’ve ever met’, meaning the very nicest.
And refrain. If you ask someone to refrain from doing something, you’d like them to stop. But the refrain in a song is the bit that keeps coming round again and again, also known as the chorus. Although there are some refrains I wish would refrain, I must admit!
What about inflammable. Does it mean non-flammable, or easy to set on fire? It’s easier to avoid using it altogether, and use flammable to mean easy to set on fire, and non-flammable for the opposite.
So there we are for today. Please do share any more favourite oddities of the language here. There are plenty to choose from after all.