Why do the British like using excess letters (for example, ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’, ‘cheque’ instead of ‘check’, ‘analogue’ instead of ‘analog’, etc.)?
By Gregory Till
02 July 2018
It’s a big secret. People outside the UK aren’t generally informed of this, but in the interests of education, truth and beauty, here we go.
The English language is not, technically, a language. It is difficult to define what it is, but the best description is that it is the absolute pinnacle of psychological warfare. I know that sounds crazy, but bear with me.
You see, England kept being invaded and the English couldn’t do a damned thing about it. First the Romans, then the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes, then the Vikings. Terrible business! The last straw was the Normans; although they were Vikings who lived in France. That was just too close for comfort, I mean, being invaded by the French… Unthinkable!
But how could the British people fight back? That’s when they had a wonderful idea. They decided to make a language so confusing, so utterly, incomprehensibly, unimaginably, painfully stupid that it would melt the brain of literally everyone in the world who was a native speaker of a sensible language. And so, they got cracking.
That is why knight is spelt with a K. Do you pronounce the K? No - don’t be silly! Why is gnome spelt with a G? Precisely because it shouldn’t be spelt with a G. That’s the beauty of it, don’t you see?
But try not to be too much of a wreck; not just yet anyway. Silent letters were just the start of it and I’m not even counting the magic E we stuck on half the words, just to confuse things. We haven’t got the tim to get into that - sorry, haven’t got the time.
Why do we spell “doughnut” the way we do, only to not actually pronounce 3/8ths. of the letters? Well, just to see foreigners go cross-eyed, basically.
The plural of tooth is teeth, and the plural of foot is feet, and the plural of goose is geese. So why is “sheep” singular? Why not “one shoop, two sheep”? And what’s the plural of moose? Also moose. Are you weeping yet? Well, we’re not done.
Why are “wind” and “wind” spelt the same, when they sound different? And why does “wind” rhyme with “binned”? Why do the letters “ough” sound the same in “enough” and “tough”, but different in “though”, and “thought”, and “bough”?
We even carried this over to our place names. Why is “London” spelt that way when we actually say “Lun-dun”? Makes it harder for invaders to find, you see.
Here’s an experiment. Try to pronounce the following - don’t worry, I put the pronunciations in the next paragraph to help you. But try them out yourself first.
Here we go:
Worcestershire, Leicester, Middlesborough, Hunstanton, Magdalen College, Leominster, Godmanchester, and Loughborough.
Now here’s how you should say them:
Woos-tuh-shur, Lest-uh, Mid-ulls-bru, Hun-ston, Mord-lin College, Lem-ster, Gum-ster, and Luff-bru.
So, how did you do? Most non-British people I’ve met - unless they’re Anglophiles - do quite badly. I mean, try going up to someone on a railway platform and asking to go to “Lowg-buh-ruh”. People will look at you like you had broken into their house on Christmas morning and defecated on the parlour rug. But don’t be ashamed - that’s sort of the point.
In World War Two, when we thought the Germans might invade, we took down all the road signs. The Germans found out, knew they’d have to rely on asking people for directions and abandoned their plans to invade that same day. Having to actually talk to English people… Nein danke!
Even the ‘helpful rules’ we came up with to explain English don’t actually work. “I before E, except after C”, they say. Is that actually correct? Not really, see “receipt”, or “neighbour”, or “sleigh”. Actually, more words ignore that rule than follow it. So, why have the rule? To screw with people’s minds, of course.
The thing is, the whole experiment worked. Within a few centuries, the French either gave up and went home, or they succumbed to such levels of unrelenting insanity that they were incapable of being anything other than Civil Servants. No-one has dared invade the country since for fear we’d try to speak to them.
And all of that is before I get on to mentioning the fact that we have several hundred local dialects and accents in the country too. Britons can identify each other's point of ethnic origin within two doors from their place of birth by their accent. Social stereotyping based on how one speaks English is the norm. It's probably overkill, but as the basis for endemic discrimination and racial bias it seemed like a good idea originally.
And don’t get me started on the Welsh language. That is the nuclear deterrent of incomprehensible spelling, I’m telling you. The Scots are not much better with “Kircudbright” and “Ecclefechan”.
The point is, not only did we get people to stop invading Britain but the British were able to build an entire vast Empire on the back of this pig’s breakfast of a language.
Most of the time, they would just send a long, rambling letter to the political elites of any particular country delivered in warships, gunboats and columns of heavily armed troops. A few days later, they would stagger out of their offices/ palaces/ long houses or mud huts, dazed and confused holding their complimentary copy of the Christian Bible, only half understanding that the letter was a courtesy, politely informing them that Britain would be running the country from now on – taxation and tariffs to follow. By the time their ears stopped ringing, the British had already built a dozen railways and it would be pretty damned rude to kick a chap out of a country once he had built you a railway, don’t you think?
Whole thing worked for centuries. They would ask us to leave, we would agree to be out by February and by the time the locals had worked out how to spell it, another fifty years had gone by – the revenue taxi-meter ticking all the while.
America rather screwed the pooch by trying to get the language to make sense, you see. They started simplifying the language, and as such, they have had dreadful trouble keeping people in line. People can actually deal with American simplified spellings and such, and so they aren’t trying to drag themselves out of a fog of confusion during every diplomatic meeting. And even then, they’re only dealing with the random extra letters. Imagine if you were a non-English speaker entering the Anglophone world cold and had to learn the entire salmagundi of English spelling from scratch?
Like I said in the beginning, it’s not simply a language, it is Psychological Warfare. I’m surprised that Britain hasn’t been indicted in the International Court of Justice in The Hague yet.
Mistakes are proof that I am trying....
Now to remember what!