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English is Easily Difficult

I have sympathy for anyone learning the English language. It can definitely be complicated, which is another word for byzantine, convoluted, confusing, obscure, muddled, and confounding.

So here are ten helpful rules to keep in mind:

1. A slim chance and a fat chance are the same thing.

2. A wise man and a wise guy are not the same.

3. Writers write, and painters paint, but grocers do not groce – but they could encounter something gross or get an order for a gross of something (a group of 144 items,) which adds to their gross sales.

4. Oddly, there is no other word for “synonym,” although 'replacement' could be substituted as a vague alternative.

5. Noses can run, and feet can smell.

6. The letters “ough” can be pronounced in eight different ways. (e.g., “A rough-coated, dough-faced ploughman thoughtfully strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing and hiccoughing.”)

7. A house burns up while it’s burning down.

8. Forms are filled out by being filled in.

9. An alarm that’s going off is still going on.

10. The expression “you’re a peach” is a compliment, but “you’re bananas” is an insult.

Thanks to Bob Hostetler for pointing these out. He also asks:

  • Why is the word “abbreviation” so long?


Inspired by Bob's post "Mysteries of the English Language" on The Steve Laube Agency.

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