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Tony Deyal | Mad dogs and Grammar Nazis

Published:Saturday | May 18, 2019 | 12:00 AM

England is a crazy place and the English language is even crazier than its inventors.

An Englishman on a horse with a big shotgun in his hand was riding through the forest when he came upon a beautiful and totally naked red-haired woman.

“What you doing?” she asked coquettishly.

“I’m looking for game,” he replied matter-of-factly.

She smiled, posed seductively and responded, “Well, I’m game!”

So he shot her.

A Jamaican, accustomed to his cold Red Stripe, was asked what he thought about warm English beer.

He replied, “I think they should just pour it back into the horse.”

It is why the Jamaican country boy was thrown out of the spelling bee when he failed to spell ‘auspice’ correctly.

Three foreign doctors on contract in Trinidad were discussing the case of a woman who could not have any children.

The first one, from India, said, “The woman is inconceivable.”

The second one, from the Philippines, corrected her colleague, pointing out, “Inconceivable really means unbelievable or even unimaginable. Really, the woman is impregnable.”

“No, no, no, my dear,” the third doctor, a Nigerian, admonished. “Impregnable is like a fortress that cannot be conquered or penetrated. The fact is, the woman is unbearable.”

One comedian mused, “There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins were not invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth?”

There are many such ambiguities and inconsistencies in English. One wit pointed out that a renowned national sprinter should be housed in the Hilton Hotel in Trinidad, which is famous for having its first floor at the top and its highest numbered floor at the bottom. He said that, like the hotel, the sprinter has to be upside down because his mouth runs and his feet smell. This can only happen in English.


It is not the only product of happenstance. Crazier than the language and worse than the Great London Plague of 1665 is the modern phenomenon of the ‘Grammar Nazi’, essentially someone who corrects another person’s grammar in a way the accused feels is overly harsh.

Some signs that you are a Grammar Nazi is that you get really angry when people mix up ‘you’re’ and ‘your’, or ‘they’re’, ‘their’ and ‘there’, which is what you murmur when you’re comforting a Grammar Nazi who someone just threatened to ban from Facebook, and, worst of all, ‘to’ and ‘too’.

As Richard Lederer, English teacher or (as he puts it) “unrepentant inmate in the house of correction of composition” but not a Grammar Nazi, rightly says, “The English language is the most widely spoken in the history of our planet. The English language boasts the largest of all vocabularies and one of the most impressive bodies of literature. But let’s face it. The English language is a killer to spell correctly.”

One student who had worked in Venezuela consistently misspelled the word ‘burro’ as ‘burrow’.

His teacher wrote, “My dear sir: It is apparent to me from your spelling that you do not know your ass from a hole in the ground.”

Now with the influx of Venezuelans in Guyana, Trinidad and other English-speaking Caribbean countries, you have to remember that ‘pan’ is not a musical instrument but ‘bread’, ‘pie’ is ‘foot’ and if a lady tells you she is ‘embarazada’, she might be embarrassed but she is definitely pregnant.

The Washington Post has an annual contest asking readers for alternate meanings for various words and phrases. For example, ‘willy-nilly’ converts into ‘impotence’; ‘circumvent’ is ‘the opening in the front of boxer shorts’ and ‘flatulence’ is ‘the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller’. ‘Rectitude’ is ‘the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist after he examines you’ and ‘Pokemon’ is a Jamaican proctologist. This is why the belief that English is a major cause of mortality cannot be refuted or repudiated. The evidence is overwhelming.

The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British, Americans or Caribbean people. So do the French – lots of fat but few heart attacks. Italians drink lots of wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the rest of us.

The conclusion is obvious. Eat and drink what you like. It’s speaking English that kills you.

Tony Deyal was last seen asking if there is another word for ‘synonym’. Email feedback to