Thursday, December 6, 2007


When the English tongue we speak,
Why is "break" not rhymed with "freak"?
Will you tell me why it's true,
We say "sew" but likewise "few",
And the fashioner of verse
Cannot cap his "horse" with "worse"?
"Beard" sounds not the same as "heard",
"Cord" is different from "word";"
Cow" is cow but "low" is low,"
Shoe" is never rhymed with "foe";
Think of "hose" and "dose" and "lose",
And of "goose" and also "choose";
Think of "tomb" and "bomb" and "comb",
"Doll" and "roll" and "some" and "home",
And since "pay" is rhymed with "say",
Why not "paid" and "said" I pray?
We have "blood" and "food" and "good",
"Mould" is not pronounced like "could";
Wherefore "done" but "gone" and "lone"?
Is there any reason known?
No, in short, it seems to me
Sound and letters disagree.

from: Practical Rules for Pronounciation, arranged by C. Heyman, Teacher of English in the Haarlem H.B.S. Third Edition; probably around 1910 (slightly adapted)


I've read Pilgrim's Progress several times and still can't remember how to pronounce slough, as in Slough of Despond. Does it rhyme with cow? Do? Cuff?

No letter combination in English is more frustrating than ough. It can be pronounced at least 9 different ways:

rough (uff)
through (oo)
bough (ow)
cough (off)
dough (oh)
hiccough (up)
fought (aw)
Poughkeepsie (uh)
Coughlin (og)

Slough causes problems because it's pronounced different ways, depending on meaning. Slough pronounced sluff is the term for shedding skin, like snakes do. Slough meaning wet, swampy ground can be pronounced either sloo or slou. prefers slou, while the American Heritage Dictionary prefers sloo. I'm going with sloo too.