English – The Chaos

So, I have two kids, age 5 and 3. Having spent the last few years teaching them to read and write (well, my wife can probably take more credit for that), I am constantly frustrated by the ‘rules’ of English and the endless list of words that are exceptions to those ‘rules’. There are no rules – there are barely even any recognisable patterns in many cases.

I came across this poem that summarises it wonderfully and wanted to share it with you.

(It’s quite long, but worth sticking with it)

(Also, if preferred, you can find a reading of it on Youtube)



 ‘The Chaos’, by Gerard Nolst Trenité


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, Susybusy,

Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

Queer, fair seerhear my prayer.


Pray, console your loving poet,

Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare hearthear and heard,

Dies and dietlord and word.


Sword and swardretain and Britain

(Mind the latter how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,

Saysaidpaypaidlaid 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;

Wovenovenhow and low,



Say, expecting fraud and trickery:

Daughterlaughter and Terpsichore,

Branch, ranch, measlestopsailsaisles,




Sameexamining, but mining,

Scholarvicar, and cigar,

Solarmicawar and far.


From “desire”: desirableadmirable from “admire”,

Lumberplumberbier, but brier,

Topshambroughamrenown, but known,





GertrudeGermanwind and wind,

Beau, kind, kindred, queuemankind,



Reading, Readingheathenheather.

This phonetic labyrinth

Gives mossgrossbrookbroochninthplinth.


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;


Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.


Banquet is not nearly parquet,

Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

Discountviscountload and broad,

Toward, to forward, to reward,


Ricocheted and crochetingcroquet?

Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.

Roundedwoundedgrieve and sieve,

Friend and fiendalive and live.


Is your r correct in higher?

Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.

Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,

Buoyantminute, 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 perjureSheik

Does not sound like Czech but ache.


Libertylibraryheave and heaven,


We say hallowed, but allowed,

Peopleleopardtowed but vowed.


Mark the difference, moreover,

Between moverploverDover.


Chalice, but police and lice,




Petalpenal, and canal,




Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,

But it is not hard to tell

Why it’s pallmall, but Pall Mall.




Worm and stormchaisechaoschair,




Has the a of drachm and hammer.

Pussyhussy and possess,

Desert, but desertaddress.



Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

Courier, courtier, tombbombcomb,

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,

Fontfrontwontwantgrand 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.

MindMeandering 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, severanceRibald

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 buffetbuffet;

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 trolleyrealm 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 rch 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.

Realzealmauve, gauze and gauge,



Hero, heron, query, very,

Parry, tarry fury, bury,

Dostlostpost, and dothclothloth,



Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,

Bowingbowing, banjo-tuners

Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

Puisnetruismuse, to use?


Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual,


Putnutgranite, and unite.


Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,

Feoffer does, and zephyrheifer.


Hintpintsenate, but sedate.




Tour, but our, dour, succourfour,

Gasalas, and Arkansas.


Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,

Next omit, which differs from it

Bona fide, alibi

Gyrate, dowry and awry.



PsalmMaria, but malaria.

Youthsouthsoutherncleanse and clean,



Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion with battalion,

Rally with allyyeaye,



Say aver, but everfever,


Never guess-it is not safe,

We say calvesvalveshalf, but Ralf.


Starry, granarycanary,

Crevice, but device, and eyrie,

Face, but preface, then grimace,




Oughtoust, 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, puttingPutting?

Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

Respite, spite, consent, resent.

Liable, but Parliament.


Seven is right, but so is even,


Monkeydonkeyclerk and jerk,



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 rowlockgunwale,

Islington, and Isle of Wight,

Housewifeverdict and indict.


Don’t you think so, reader, rather,

Saying latherbatherfather?

Finally, which rhymes with enough,

Thoughthroughboughcoughhoughsough, tough??


Hiccough has the sound of sup

My advice is: GIVE IT UP!



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