Tense Times

The Cunning Linguist, by Dr. Lederer.
We could talk about the economy or the budget, or even the Middle East and it would all safely fall under "Tense Times".  However, none of those things is the subject of this post.

I was reading through a Steven Pinker book entitled Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language, and came across a gem of a poem.  It talks about some things none of us quite understands, irregular verbs.  Richard Lederer, the author of the poem: A Tense Time with Verbs, manages to explain what we cannot grasp and even put it to rhyme.

This guy is the master of puns, also, consider the book title to your right and you will see. 

The verbs in English are a fright.
How can we learn to read and write?
Today we speak, but first we spoke;
Some faucets leak, but never loke.
Today we write, but first we wrote;
We bite our tongues, but never bote.
Each day I teach, for years I taught,
And preachers preach, but never praught.
This tale I tell; this tale I told;
I smell the flowers, but never smold.
If knights still slay, as once they slew,
Then do we play, as once we plew?
If I still do as once I did,
Then do cows moo, as they once mid?
I love to win, and games I've won;
I seldom sin, and never son.
I hate to lose, and games I lost;
I didn't choose, and never chost.

I love to sing, and songs I sang;
I fling a ball, but never flang.
I strike that ball, that ball I struck;
This poem I like, but never luck.
I take a break, a break I took;
I bake a cake, but never book.
I eat that cake, that cake I ate;
I beat an egg, but never bate.
I often swim, as I once swam;
I skim some milk, but never skam.
I fly a kite that I once flew;
I tie a knot, but never tew.
I see the truth, the truth I saw;
I flee from falsehood, never flaw.
I stand for truth, as I once stood;
I land a fish, but never lood.
About these verbs I sit and think.
These verbs don't fit. They seem to wink
At me, who sat for years and thought
Of verbs that never fat or wrought.

This is all fine work by Dr. Lederer and if you own it or if you're Dr. Lederer and don't want it up here I'll gladly take it down, simply send me a message here: Contact Us.  Thank you.


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  1. Ha, it's wonderful. It's true!

  2. LOL. Love that poem. I've always thought that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. English is my second language and sometimes, I still have difficulties.

  3. hahah! such a lovely poem! but it is true. English is such a weird language with its weird pronunciations and spellings.

  4. Thanks, D4.

    Shutterbug, first language or no I think it requires a lot to learn all these little details that make us more than the average language user. You'd be surprised sometimes how well people speak their second language. Often if someone speaks it well he/she can reach a higher technical proficiency in the language than a native speaker. Grammar, of course! I don't believe I've ever picked up on the fact that English is not your first language, keep up the good work!

    RS, I think it will be like Chinese in 1,000 years--we will all read the same language but won't be able to understand each other like Mandarin and Cantonese. Just a guess though! Sometimes I think that we'd all be better off speaking Spanish--it's so regular with its spellings, so lovely. :)


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