Quirks of the English Language

Now I am writing for a living, there are many curiosities that strike me about the language of English, seemingly contradictory grammatical rules, strange spellings, silent letters, that dreaded “i before e except after c” that has so many exceptions. This thread is just a dumping ground for some of the weirder quirks so please forgive me for the random thoughts that are about to follow.

Why isn’t “onomatopoeia” an onomatopoeia?

Why isn’t “palindrome” a palindrome?

Why “phonetic” isn’t spelt phonetically?

If the noun is lightning, why isn’t the verb lightninging?

Why isn’t “diminutive” a diminutive word?

Similarly, why is “abbreviation” such a long word?

Why does the word “superfluous” have so many syllables?

Why this sentence makes sense: “Every job that he had had had had no effect on his desire to settle down”

Why does “thesaurus” have no synonyms?

Why aren’t “ruly”, “gruntled” and “peccable” proper words when you can be unruly, disgruntled and impeccable?

Why do “overlook” and “oversee” have opposite meanings?

Why we use “near miss” when we narrowly avoid something – near miss should mean it nearly missed… surely?


If anybody would like to answer any of those, then give it your best shot!

23 responses to “Quirks of the English Language”

  1. great examples, my particular favourites were the had had had had one and the near miss, I really had never thought that the near miss won was wrong for all these year, but near hit doesn’t sound the same.

    • Since realising, I have preferred to use the term “close shave” which on reflection, doesn’t really work as a metaphor either!

      • haha, it is amazing the amount of sayings, that don’t make sense.

        Should I have done the prompt today I think I would have gone with the term “could care less” which indicates you care, but the whole point of saying it is that you don’t care, ie couldn’t care less.

      • I only hear Americans say “could care less” and have never heard a fellow Brit use it. Great video from David Mitchell 🙂

  2. Love this response to the prompt. Very clever and food for much thought. I’ve been told English is a tough language to conquer and your list of questions perhaps provides a clue as to why this is so. I can’t single out a single favorite from your list. i like them all. I’ve seen such lists before, but yours is original!!!

    • Thanks 🙂 Most of them have come from my own thoughts but when I went looking for possible answers, it seems I am not the only one to have come up with them.

  3. When I taught English, I used to tell my students that for every grammar rule, there is an exception. Get used to it. English is arguably one of the most inconsistent languages in existence. I believe part of the reason for that is that English is really a conglomeration of nearly every other language in existence, or not. Fun to play around with, in any event.

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