To her fans, few and deluded as they may be, the contrite Mrs. Language Person extends her dubious apologies. Today’s offering is neither her own nor particularly illuminating. No, Dear Readers, today she seeks merely to entertain and be done with it, off to nurse another grueling headache (Snitty Old Bitties are naturally prone to them, you see).
So without further ado she brings to you a popular ode of old, one misattributed yet reproduced by Harvard-educated English teacher, prolific author of “Crazy English,” and 1989 Punster of the Year, Richard Lederer (more on its origin follows).
Ode to English Plurals
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes, but the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is a goose, but two are called geese, yet the plural of moose should never be meese,
You may find a lone mouse or a whole nest of mice, but the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men, why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine, but a bow if repeated is never called bine, and the plural of vow is vows, never vine.
If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet, and I give you a boot would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth, why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular’s this and the plural is these, should the plural of kiss ever be nicknamed keese?
Then one may be that and three would be those, yet hat in the plural would never be hose, and the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren, but though we say mother, we never say methren,
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him, but imagine the feminine she, shis and shim.
So the English, I think, you all will agree, is the queerest language you ever did see.
“Kine,” you may have asked? Why yes; kine is the archaic plural of cow, from the Middle English “kyn.” And that brings us to our hint of this ode’s earlier o-ri-gin.
So Dear Reader, lest you retain that Hollywood-inspired misimpression that the 19th century was all punctilious stuffiness punctuated only by frustrated romances in Jane Austen style, note: “Ode to English Plurals” — its author unknown — has been found published in newspapers of the late 1800s. Those English neckties and corsets couldn’t have been knotted too tightly.
Mrs. Language Person and her nurse-secretary, Sholeh Patrick, are columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Contact them at Sholeh@cdapress.com.