The Baffling English Language!

Posted on October 14, 2019

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By David Ettinger

A small diversion from my usual Bible-oriented blogs …

A colleague arrived at work today clearing his throat several times. I asked him if he was coming down with something. He replied: “Just some early-morning stuff.” For whatever reason, I followed through and said, “Your basic phlegm, I suppose.”

From the moment those words left my mouth, I was lost in my obsession with the baffling nature of the English language.

I said to my friend, “Isn’t ‘phlegm’ an odd word? What’s with the ‘ph’ and the ‘g’? I can see why so many people whose first language is not English go crazy trying to figure out why we spell our words the way we do. And don’t even get me started with ‘through’ and ‘threw,’ and ‘stuff’ and ‘rough’ (words with same exact sounds but spelled differently).”

By this time, I’m sure my work mate wanted to put as much space between him and me as possible.

Of course, the answer is that English is a relatively “new” language and derives most of its words from other languages, hence the “other-language” derivatives. On the other side of the issue, are phonetic languages such as Spanish and Hebrew, where the spelling matches the pronunciation. I studied Hebrew for 11 years in school and can still read it fluently, though I can’t converse in it.

For the record, the word “phlegm” is derived from the old French word fleume, which in turn is derived from the late Latin word phlegma, which means “to burn.”

Bah humbug on the background of the word; it should be spelled “flem”! What about you? What oddities strike you about the English language?