"The Chaos" by G. Nolst Trenite


Dearest creature in creation Studying 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 you'll 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, steak, but bleak and streak.

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via, Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,

Cloven, oven, how and low, Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery: Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles. Exiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing. Thames, examining, combining

Scholar, vicar, and cigar, Solar, mica, war, and far.

From "desire": desirable--admirable from "admire." Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.

Chatham, brougham, renown, but known. Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,

One, anemone. Balmoral. Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,

Gertrude, German, wind, and mind. Scene, Melpomene, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather, Reading, reading, heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Billet does not end like ballet; Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;

Blood and flood are not like food, Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet, Which is said to rime with "darky."

Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad. Toward, to forward, to reward.

And your pronunciation's O.K., When you say correctly: croquet.

Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve, Friend and fiend, alive, and live,

Liberty, library, heave, and heaven, Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,

We say hallowed, but allowed, People, leopard, towed, but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover, Between mover, plover, Dover,

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise, Chalice, but police, and lice.

Camel, constable, unstable, Principle, disciple, label,

Petal, penal, and canal, Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.

Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit, Rime with "shirk it" and "beyond it."

But it is not hard to tell, Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron, Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair, Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous, clamour And enamour rime with hammer.

Pussy, hussy, and possess, Desert, but dessert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants. Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.

River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb, Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not rime with anger. Neither does devour with clangour.

Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt. Font, front, won't, want, grand, and grant.

Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger. And then: singer, ginger, linger,

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge, Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.

Query does not rime with very, Nor does fury sound like bury.

Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth; Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.

Though the difference seems little, We say actual, but victual.

Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height; Put, nut; granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rime with deafer, Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late, Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.

Scenic, Arabic, Pacific, Science, conscience, scientific,

Tour, but our and succour, four, Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Sea, idea, guinea, area, Psalm, Maria, but malaria,

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean, Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian, Dandelion with battalion.

Sally with ally, yea, ye, Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.

Say aver, but ever, fever. Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.

Never guess--it is not safe: We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.

Heron, granary, canary, Crevice and device, and eyrie,

Face but preface, but efface, Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Large, but target, gin, give, verging, Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,

Ear but earn, and wear and bear Do not rime with here, but ere.

Seven is right, but so is even, Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,

Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk, Asp, 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, like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington and Isle of Wight, Housewife, verdict, and indict!

Don't you think so, reader, rather, Saying lather, bather, father?

Finally: which rimes with "enough" Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?

Hiccough has the sound of "cup." My advice is--give it up!



Having only stumbled upon this poem recently, it is a perfect example of the difficulty of English. As a native English speaker, reading this poem aloud was on par with riding a bike with triangles for wheels. Yes, it can probably be done but you feel like an idiot for trying and there are absolutely better uses for your time.


English is hard already. Amassing a list of challenging, atypical words (that I only imagine pop up on the GRE or MCAT tests) into some coherent string of words is beyond me. The saving grace is that there is a standard rhyming scheme that can help you figure out the pronunciation.


I think the two things I wanted to show in this post are the following:

1) Even a native English speaker does not have a perfect grasp of the language. There are words and pronunciations that I don't know so don't hold native English speakers on a pedestal, thinking they are much better.


2) Many of the words are NOT regularly used words, so who cares? It is 100% more important to learn to pronounce the words you use every day rather than the fancy word you use once in your lifetime. Be strategic with your time and learn the words that are functional for you!



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