Fancy yourself a master of the modern English language? As it turns out, only about 10% of the population has truly mastered the language that many of us use every day.
Any non-native English speaker will tell you that it is a complicated language. I mean just look at the words “dough” and “tough”. They are spelled nearly identical – with only the first letter being different – so how is it possible that they don’t even remotely rhyme with one another?
Whether or not you were an egghead in school or couldn’t wait for class to end, take a stab at the poem below. Only 10% of those who recite it can pronounce every word in it correctly. It’s called The Chaos and was written by Gerard Nolst Trenite in 1920.
The poem includes approximately 800 examples of “irregular spelling” and has become a favorite of English teachers who want to trip up their students. Go ahead and give it a try. Oh, and for added difficulty, try to read it as quickly as possible. Good luck! (And in case you do struggle, there is a video on how to correctly read the poem at the end.)
Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
It will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye your dress you’ll tear.
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it?
Just compare heart, beard 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,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak,
Previous, precious; fuchsia, via;
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven; how and low;
Script, receipt; shoe, poem, toe,
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid; measles, topsails, aisles;
Exiles, similes, reviles;
Wholly, holly; signal, signing;
Thames; examining, combining;
Scholar, vicar and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”;
Lumber, plumber; bier but brier;
Chatham, brougham; renown but known,
Knowledge; done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone; Balmoral;
Kitchen, lichen; laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German; wind and mind;
Scene, Melpomene, mankind;
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
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 is said to rhyme with “darky”.
Viscous, viscount; load and broad;
Toward, to forward, to reward,
And your pronunciation’s O.K.
When you say correctly croquet;
Rounded, wounded; grieve and sieve;
Friend and fiend; alive and live;
Liberty, library; heave and heaven;
Rachel, ache, 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, run, 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
And enamour rhyme with “hammer.”
Pussy, hussy and possess.
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf; countenance; lieutenants
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival; tomb, bomb, comb;
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt, but aunt;
Font, front, wont; want, grand, and, grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger,
And then: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal; mauve, gauze and gauge;
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, but unite.
Reefer does not rhyme with “deafer,”
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull; Geoffrey, George; ate, late;
Hint, pint; senate, but sedate;
Scenic, Arabic, pacific;
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, and succour, four;
Gas, alas and Arkansas!
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm; Maria, but malaria;
Youth, south, southern; cleanse and clean;
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Sally 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!
Heron; granary, canary;
Crevice, and device, and eyrie;
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic; ass, glass, bass;
Large, but target, gin, give, verging;
Ought, out, joust and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with “here”, but “ere”.
Seven is right, but so is even;
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen;
Monkey, donkey; clerk and jerk;
Asp, grasp, wasp; and cork and work.
Pronunciation-think of psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spikey;
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing “groats” and saying groats?
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, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of “cup”……
My advice is-give it up!
Well, how did you do? Did you make it all the way through or, like 90% of the population, did you get confused and give up? A huge congratulations to those who made it, and to those who didn’t, perhaps it’s time to head back to school!
(Not going to lie, I didn’t even know half of these words were even words!)