English Pronunciation: A poem by G. Nolst Trenite (With Pronunciations and Definitions!)

I have found what is definitely one of my new most favorite poems. To quote the original site:

“If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.”

Of course, I don’t think those numbers are anything but made up, but it is still a great description of the poem. Also, instead of just copying the poem and pasting it over here, I’ve provided footnotes that allow you to look up the definition and pronunciation of the words I didn’t understand and/or didn’t know how to pronounce when I first read the poem. Some were very surprising. Enjoy! (Note: Unless you read it out loud, IT DOESN’T COUNT! 🙂 )


 

English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité

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, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
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.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague*.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore*,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar*, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral*,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel*;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene*, mankind.
Billet* does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount*, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve*,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve*, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom*, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual*.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer* does, and zephyr*, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic*, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise*, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye*, whey, and key.
Say aver*, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein*, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie*.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic*, pass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling* stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats* and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale*,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough* has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

 


 

  • Corps – “Core,” a main subdivision of an armed force in the field, consisting of two or more divisions.
  • Sward – I know of no other word pronounced like it, so here’s the link: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sward.
  • Ague – “Ay- gyoo,” malaria or some other illness involving fever and shivering.
  • Terpsichore – “Terp (like burp) – sick – or – ee,” one of the nine Muses and goddess of dance and chorus.
  • Vicar – “Vick – er,” (in the Roman Catholic Church) a representative or deputy of a bishop.
  • Balmoral – “Ball – more – ell,”  Balmoral Castle is a large estate house in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
  • Laurel – “Lore – ell,” an evergreen tree or bush with shiny pointed leaves.
  • Melpomene – “Mell – poe – (something like) money,” the Muse of Tragedy.
  • Billet – “Bill – it,” a place, usually a civilian’s house or other nonmilitary facility, where soldiers are lodged temporarily.
  • Viscount – “Vy (like cry) – count,” a man who is a member of the British nobility and who ranks below an earl and above a baron.
  • Sieve – “Siv,” a utensil consisting of a wire or plastic mesh held in a frame, used for straining solids from liquids, for separating coarser from finer particles, or for reducing soft solids to a pulp.
  • Mauve – “Mov (the “o” is like in top),” a light or medium purple color.
  • Transom – “Tron (like the movie) (or, American way, it’s “tran,” like “man”) – tsum (pronounce the “ts” like the “ts” in “bats,” then the “um” like “yum”),” a bar of wood or stone across the top of a door or window.
  • Victual – “Vid – le (rhymes with “little”),” food usable by people.
  • Foeffer – Feoffer, “Fe (like “bet) – fur,” one who makes a feoffment, one who makes the granting of a fee.
  • Zephyr – “Ze (like “bet”) – fur,” a soft gentle breeze.
  • Arabic – “Air – uh – bick,” of, belonging to, or derived from the language or literature of the Arabs.
  • Chaise – “Shaze (rhymes with “blaze”),” a horse-drawn carriage for one or two people, typically one with an open top and two wheels.
  • Aye – “I,” an affirmative vote or voter, especially in British Parliament, corresponding to yea in U.S. Congress.
  • Aver – “Uh – vair (like the “v-e-r” in “very”),” state or assert to be the case.
  • Skein – “Skane (rhymes with rain),” a length of thread or yarn, loosely coiled and knotted.
  • Aerie – “(Pronounced a variety of different ways, but in the poem rhymes with “berry”),” a large nest of a bird of prey, especially an eagle, typically built high in a tree or on a cliff.
  • Phlegmatic – “Fleg (like “beg”) – ma (as in “math”) – tick,” not easily excited to action or display of emotion.
  • Paling – “Pail (like the bucket) – ing,” a fence made from pointed wooden or metal stakes.
  • Groats – “Grotes (rhymes with oats),” grain without the covering, such as wheat or oats, broken into fragments.
  • Gunwale – “Gun – ull (as in “dull”) (rhymes with “tunnel”),” the top edge of the side of a boat.
  • Hiccough – “Hih (as in “hit”) – cup,” a hiccup, or “an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm and respiratory organs, with a sudden closure of the glottis and a characteristic sound like that of a cough.”

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