The other day I confused the words "elicit" and "illicit" while letting my Facebook fans know about something unlawful I did. (Or provoked? Shit, now I'm not sure.) Naturally, when this error was pointed out to me, I flipped completely the fuck out. "You shut your dirty poop mouth!" I bellowed. "It's the words that are wrong, not me!" I pointed out, before thoughtfully adding, "AAIAIAIIAIAIEIEIIEIAIAIIII!" Over the remainder of the day, there was nary an object or abstract concept within sight that I didn't blame at least somewhat for this mistake, many of them earning sturdy kicks for their ineptitude.
The main target of my ire was of course the English language itself, my tormenting mistress, who has seemingly betrayed me yet again. How could a language beautiful enough to allow the creation of the phrase "ass spelunker" be so cruel as to allow different words to be pronounced the same? Doesn't she know how dumb I am?
And so, much as I do every day, I set to work proving why everyone but me was wrong. Surprisingly, this time I actually found at least a little evidence supporting my case: It turns out that, indeed, the English language is seriously fucked up. Here's why:
Throughout its history, the people of England, bless them, have been a little ... completely ... slutty ... about the variety and sheer number of words they've allowed to pass through their lips. What we now understand as modern English is concocted from a secret blend of herbs and languages, most notably German, French, Latin and Greek. And once England got into the habit of sending boats with guns to parts of the world with fewer guns, they began borrowing words from basically every other language on the planet.
"You there! Savage! Bring us a selection of your spices, vocabulary and venereal diseases!"
And seeing as German, French, Latin and Greek all have some pretty different ideas about how things should be done, the end result has left English spelling consistency more torn apart than a sackful of cats. Heck, there are massive spelling inconsistencies between words derived from the same root. For example, "discrete" and "discreet" are two different words that mean totally different things, which I don't think I've ever used correctly. The definition of each one is literally "the opposite of what Chris Bucholz intended." All because the fuckers both came from the same root, the Latin word "discretus," having taken different meandering paths to the present day, purely to wreck my day.
How would you pronounce the word "ghoti"? Did you say something like "goaty"? Like some kind of adjective describing an action performed in the manner of a goat?
Goaty: [adj] (-ier, -iest) 1. In the manner of a goat 2. In a manner that ruins everything. 3. While endlessly pooping a series of pellet-like turds, ruining everything.
But did you consider that "ghoti" could also be pronounced basically the same as "fish"? For example, if we:
Pronounce the "gh" the same as we do when we pronounce it in "tough"
Pronounce the "o" the same as we do when we pronounce it in "women"
Pronounce the "ti" the same as we do when we pronounce it in "nation"
If that seems contrived, try flipping the problem around. Look at an actual word, something like "scissors." Based on the way most people pronounce it, "scissors" has about 80 million valid spellings -- of which "scissors" is the most ridiculous.
You see, for every rule or guideline we have for how words are spelled or pronounced -- "'I' before 'E'" -- there are exceptions -- "except after 'C'" -- and exceptions to those exceptions -- "except in cases like 'weighing' your 'neighbor'." The rules can't be relied on at all, really, and spelling accurately becomes mostly a matter of experience, or more commonly, right-clicking red squiggly lines. When trying to spell a word, unless you've written it regularly and/or recently, you're shit out of luck without a dictionary. Even with one, you can get tripped up by homophones, real words that sound identical but mean different things -- see my "elicit"/"illicit" confusion.