Although the English language is more widely understood and used in this shrinking world than a few decades ago, it’s confusing enough that some immigrants still prefer to speak their native language.
It isn’t surprising when you consider some of these homogeneous words with varying definitions: Fare and fair, corps and core, peace and piece, pair and pear, seen and scene, peal and peel, fairy and ferry, rain and reign, male and mail, lean and lien, wile and while, which and witch, ale and ail, ball and bawl, bale and bail, site, sight, cite, dear and deer, beer and bier, mite and might, rite and right, or and ore, wind and wind, bear and bare, horse and hoarse, to, too, two, and tutu, bored and board, wood and would, rumors and roomers, and won and one – which reminds me when my kids and I were playing basketball I seldom won the one-and-one game.
Remember the old popular song, “Rumors Are Flying?” I heard one immigrant say he thought the boarding house exploded.
Even the simplest words can have different meanings. Take the word can for instance. There’s can the helping verb; can referring to a tin or aluminum container; can meaning to preserve fruits or vegetables; the colloquial term for bathroom; or a term meaning to terminate employment.
The word sweep is used differently. Can you picture the bride with a broom sweeping up the aisle (not the isle) as she approaches the groom (her husband to be, not the stable hand) as he waits for her at the altar (not the alter). How many more situations can you think of?
Adding to the confusion is the art of phonetic spelling. This has its pitfalls, too. The late Maynard Nixon of Polson once handed me a letter from an unknown source that illustrates how confusing English can be using phonetic spelling as the author spelled the words just as they sounded:
Won knight a suite, deer little buoy, the sun of a grate kernel, flu up the rode swift as a dear, stopped at a gnu house and wrang the belle. His tow hurt hymn and he kneaded wrest. He was two tired to raze his pail face. A feint mown of pane rows from his lips The made who herd the belle wring was about two pair a pear, but she through them down and ran with awl her mite four fear her guessed wood not weight. Butt when she saw the little won, tiers stood inn her ayes at the site.
“Ewe pore dear, why due yew lye hear? Are yew dying?”
He said, “Know, Eye am feint two the corps.”
She bore hymn in her arms, as she aught, to a room where he might bee quiet, gave hymn sum bred and meet, held cent under his knows, ted his choler, wrapped hymn warmly, gave hymn sum suite drachma from a viol, till at last he went fourth hail as a young hoarse. His eyes shown and his knows was as read as a flour.
Paul Fugleberg is a former editor and co-publisher of the Flathead Courier of Polson and the Ronan Pioneer, his freelance articles and photos have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines and newspapers, and he has written several books. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.