The Chaos (aka: Exploring Poetry, part 1)

Like many lovers of language and literature, I adore poetry. And so, for the next several posts, I would like to focus on poetry, beginning with The Chaos, by Gerard Nolst Trenité. It is not often that I read a poem that makes me laugh with delight, but this poem certainly had such an effect. I urge you to read it aloud, and try your best to pronounce each word correctly. It may be easier said than done, even for native English speakers!


Gerard Nolst Trenité – The Chaos (1922)

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
   I will teach you in my verse
   Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
   Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
   Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
   Just compare heart, hear and heard,
   Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
   Made has not the sound of bade,
   Saysaid, paypaid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
   But be careful how you speak,
   Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
   Woven, oven, how and low,
   Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
   Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
   Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
   Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
   Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirableadmirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
   Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
   Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
   Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
   Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
   This phonetic labyrinth
   Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
   Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
   Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
   Blood and flood are not like food,
   Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
   Discount, viscount, load and broad,
   Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
   Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
   Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
   Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
   Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
   Would it tally with my rhyme
   If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
   Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
   Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
   You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
   In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
   To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
   Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
   We say hallowed, but allowed,
   People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
   Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
   Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
   Petal, penal, and canal,
   Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
   But it is not hard to tell
   Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
   Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
   Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
   Pussy, hussy and possess,
   Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
   Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
   Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“,
   Making, it is sad but true,
   In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
   Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
   Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
   Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
   Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
   Mind! Meandering but mean,
   Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
   Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
   Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
   Prison, bison, treasure trove,
   Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
   Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
   Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
   Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
   Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
   Evil, devil, mezzotint,
   Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
   Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
   Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
   Funny rhymes to unicorn,
   Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
   No. Yet Froude compared with proud
   Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
   Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
   Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
   But you’re not supposed to say
   Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
   How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
   When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
   Episodes, antipodes,
   Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
   Rather say in accents pure:
   Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
   Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
   Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
   Say then these phonetic gems:
   Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em
   Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
   Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
   With and forthwith, one has voice,
   One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
   Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
   Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
   Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
   Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
   Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
   Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
   Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
   Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
   Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
   Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
   Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
   Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
   Bona fide, alibi
   Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
   Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
   Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
   Rally with ally; yea, ye,
   Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
   Never guess-it is not safe,
   We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
   Face, but preface, then grimace,
   Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
   Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
   Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
   With the sound of saw and sauce;
   Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
   Respite, spite, consent, resent.
   Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
   Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
   Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
   G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
   I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
   Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
   Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
   Won’t it make you lose your wits
   Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
   Islington, and Isle of Wight,
   Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
   Finally, which rhymes with enough,
   Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

Notes on The Chaos

“The Chaos” is a poem which demonstrates the irregularity of English spelling and pronunciation, written by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), also known under the pseudonym Charivarius. It first appeared in an appendix to the author’s 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen. (From Wikipedia:

Muchas Gracias, Dr. Seuss (Reflections on Learning a Language)

Okay, I am really not sure if I am ready to do this – at least not well, but I am going to attempt it anyway. Today, I shall write a blog post almost entirely in Spanish. I welcome corrections from Spanish speakers, but please be kind, as I am still far from fluent.

(Se puede escuchar esta entrada aquí):

Bueno, no sé la razón por qué todavia pienso que estoy tan lejos de hablar con fluidez. La verdad es que ahora, yo puedo entender mucho, y soy capaz de expresarme en alguna manera, aunque a menudo cometo errores o digo algo de una forma sencilla aunque en ingles, lo hubiera dicho de una forma mas complicada. Quizá es que siempre me he encantado el lenguaje, y a las palabras. De mi propia idioma, tengo una gran maestría, y supongo que hasta el dia cuando mis habilidades con castellano son el igual de las con ingles, yo pensaré que mi castellano no es muy bien.

el conejito

Como yo escribí en una entrada anterior, he estado estudiando castellano desde niñez. En aquellos dias, todo lo que yo tenia para aprender el idioma fue un libro muy chistoso por Dr. Seuss que se llamó The Cat in the Hat Dictionary in Spanish and English. A causa de aquel libro, me enamoré de una idioma.

Estas dias, todavia estoy estudiando castellano. Pero ahora estoy aprendiendo por leer libros mas grandes (Isabel Allende, a este momento), leer y escuchar las noticias, mirar programas y deportes en la television, escuchando y cantando canciones (como La Araña Pequeñita. Sí, es verdad. Una canción muy profunda, ya sé. Violenta, tambien. ¡Pobrecita araña!).  Ademas, yo practico por leer y escribir poesía en castellano (algo que me cuesta hacer, porque poesía es casi una idioma por si solo).

¿Y cuando hablo con otras personas? Ayyy…pues, eso es un poco más difícil. Para empezar, estoy una persona muy timida. Aún cuando estoy rodeada por otra gente, yo apenas digo nada – ni siquiera en ingles. Sin embargo, tengo suerte de tener un trabajo en que tengo oportunidades una vez en cuando para hablar castellano con los niños pequeños y sus madres. Estoy aprendiendo mucho de ellos, y asimismo, ellos están aprendiendo ingles de mi. De hecho, recien yo tenia una conversación con una de las madres en mi programa, durante que ella me preguntó muchas preguntas sobre el desarollo de su bebe. Claro, es la naturaleza de mi trabajo para responder a tales preguntas, pero yo no sabia que yo podia hacerlo en castellano hasta que lo hice. ¡Qué sentimiento de éxito! Tal vez todavia no tengo una gran maestría del idioma, ni puedo hablar con fluidez (ni escribir buen poesia, tampoco), pero puedo hacerlo. Puedo hablar castellano, la lengua bella a que yo he amado ya desde niñez. Y tal vez un dia, yo llegaré a estar menos tímida y hablar más con otras personas hispanohablantes, y si estoy tan afortunada, yo llegaré a cumplir mi sueño de viajar a un otro pais para estudiar el idioma un rato por una escuela de lenguas. Pero por el momento, voy a seguir estudiando y practicando castellano, y cantando La Araña Pequenita, y me intentaré sentir contenta con todo lo que he logrado desde aquellos dias cuando yo era niña, estudiando español con Dr. Seuss. (Muchas gracias, Dr. Seuss!)

La Araña Pequenita Cat in the Hat Dictionary in Spanish

Word Games and Wars (aka My Obsession With Scrabble)

I am in love with language. From the simplest colloquial phrases to the most complex, underused words in the dictionary, language fascinates me. Conversation is not enough to satisfy my thirst for words. I am also compelled to read, read, read. And when reading fails to satisfy, I turn to writing. But where do I turn when even writing is not enough to quell this burning, twisting, obsessive passion for words?



Yes, that’s right, Scrabble. Certainly, any word game will do in a pinch–Boggle, Bananagrams, etc. But there is something about playing online Scrabble, facing off against unseen opponents in the ultimate death match. We taunt each other with trash talk (Bring it on, baby!). For weapons, we hurl words like zanza, djin, and qi (yes, qi is an actual word, although I am pretty sure it is only used in the Scrabble world). We drop weapons like word hooks, or double letter scores, or even better–the triple word score (Booyah! Take that!). When you really wish to finish off your opponent, you can pull out the most powerful, destructive weapon of them all: The Bingo. Though it can be really difficult to create a word using all seven letters, and equally challenging to find a place to play it, the 50-point bonus score makes it totally worthwhile. It is the cyber-Scrabble equivalent of dropping an atomic bomb (BAM! How do you like me now, baby?).

Ooohh…all this talk about word games is giving me a crazy urge to head to the Scrabble arena and start battling. My favorite opponent has just taken his turn–Aliyos, for 23 points. But no worries, I can take him. Does anyone else dare to challenge me in a game of Scrabble? Just look me up on Origin — user name MochaCanela. But beware…I am very hard to beat. Study your dictionary first, and may the odds be ever in your favor. 😉