"The Chaos" is a poem demonstrating the irregularity of English spelling and pronunciation. Written by Dutch writer, traveller, and teacher Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870–1946), it includes about 800 examples of irregular spelling. The first version of 146 lines of text appeared in an appendix to the author's 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen, but "the most complete and authoritative version ever likely to emerge", published by The Spelling Society in 1992–93, has 274 lines.
To demonstrate the flavour of the poem, the opening lines are:
- Dearest creature in creation
- Studying English pronunciation,
- I will teach you in my verse
- Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
and the closing lines are:
- Finally, which rhymes with enough,
- Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
- Hiccough has the sound of cup...
- My advice is: GIVE IT UP!
These lines are set out as in the author's version, with alternate couplets indented and the problematic words italicised.
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via; Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- The full text of The Chaos at Wikisource.
- The Classic Concordance of Cacographic Chaos, Introduced by Chris Upward Text of 274-line version of the poem, with introduction, at The Spelling Society website
- Chaos Challenge project. Interactive application with IPA transcription popping up along with professional narration
- Text with IPA transcription of first 15 verses in British and American English, by David Madore
- Audio-visual of shortened version of "The Chaos": Reading in Canadian accent, with scrolling transcript
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