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Stephen Fry on Dormschooling

Fry shares some wonderful insights into spontaneous emergent education.

Stephen Fry on dormschooling

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The Chaos by G. Nolst Trenité

The following verse, entitled “The Chaos” (by G. Nolst Trenité), is a compendium of all that is peculiar about English orthography. English is an immensely eclectic tongue, a fact that is responsible both for its vast expressive resources as well as utterly inscrutable spelling and pronunciation.

The challenge is to read the following poem using correct pronunciation, or (far harder) to take it down from dictation, spelled correctly. Give it a try.

Read by K. Titchenell for the College Prep English class. Note: there is one known mistake in the following.  Can you find more?

Audio file:
The Chaos

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 hair 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 does not even rime with “sparky.”

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!

Note: The Chaos is written in British English and in a few cases the British pronunciation and spelling may be confusing. Here are some specific examples:

Word Pronunciation
bade bad
gaol jail
Reading redding
Pall Mall pell mell
Ralph rafe
lieutenants leftenants

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Collaborative Learning

Fry speaks on learning outside the classroom with fellow students in a collaborative homeschooling (or dormschooling) environment and with enthusiasm for the learning process.

Watch the entire lecture:

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Lectures for Auditory English Study

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