“I thought a thought. But the thought I thought wasn’t the thought I thought I thought.”
My son just looked at me like I wasn’t thinking clearly. Of all the subjects in school, English was definitely the one we both found the most challenging: I to teach it, and he to learn it. Holding a degree in English and having a bit of experience teaching high school English had me more confident and less prepared for our actual experience.
Rule: When two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking. As in boat, or train. Except when they don’t as in double or howl.
Rule: ie says I as in pie or allies. Except when it makes the E sound like chief or reprieve.
Rule: The i says I in words ending with -ild or -ind: wild, mild, bind, kind. Except wind, unless it’s wind.
Rule: If a root word ends in a consonant, double it before adding the suffix such as plan/planned, sip/sipping, fat/fatty. Except in the case of words like fasten/fastening, glisten/glistened, canter/cantered.
Rule: The letter C is pronounced K as in camel or caramel unless it sounds like cyclone.
Rule: G is pronounced guh as in gears or gaffe, unless it’s giraffe or George.
Rule: The g in gn is silent in gnu, gnaw and sign. Yet if the g and n occur at a syllable break, it becomes signal, and indignant.
When we got to the silent letters, my son looked up from his book: “Why do they even bother putting on a letter if we have to ignore it anyway?”
How do I answer that? I have no idea. I’ve always just accepted it. But why? What purpose do all the silent letters serve? My son sat looking expectantly at me.
“Yes, English is weird. It can be understood though, through tough thorough thought.” He wasn’t impressed.
And that was just one of many baffling English moments we have had over the last year and a half.
Plural words are also fun. Man is men, but pan is not pen. Foot is feet but boot is not beet. One is that, and three is those. Box becomes boxes — but ox becomes oxen. I have laughed at these oddities before, but never before was I trying to explain them to an inquiring 7-year-old.
Struggling with the suffix o-w, I started punching him playfully every time it came up in our reading to help him remember, “o-w says (ou)ch.”
But then he said that “row should be R-O-E, not R-O-W, because it says O, now OW.” True ... but ... it just doesn’t. Not a great answer — not even a good answer. But I barely understand digraphs and how syllable breaks and letter clusters change letter sounds myself — how can I explain it to a second grader? Our book continued with the story of King Tut’s tomb — pronounced toom. Here we go again. Womb says room, tomb says toom, bomb says boom ... oh wow, that example blew up in my face.
Then there is the emphasis on certain syllables to make different words: In a minute I’ll examine this minute sample. I’m not content with the content of this book. I object to that object.
There are double words as in the sentence: “All the faith we had had, had had no effect on the outcome of his life.”
We have noses that run and feet that smell. Slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing — but wise man and wise guy don’t. A house burns up while it burns down. There is no egg in eggplant. Hamburgers don’t have ham in them. We recite at a play and play at a recital.
And we haven’t even started on the letters that sometimes say different things entirely. I once saw a sign that read: “GHOTI says fish.”
G-H as in cough.
O as in women.
T-I as in nation.
I’m starting to see the appeal of hieroglyphics.
Brianna Walker occasionally writes about the Farmer’s Fate for the Blue Mountain Eagle.