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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/164

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

it may, our English orthography will gradually, and in time, conform more and more to phonetic principles. But for the practical needs of the non-English, the interest of the language as a world speech, the movement is fairly glacial in its slowness, and the world will not wait.

Our English grammar, while simple in the main, presents some most eccentric irregularities in the conjugation of the verbs and the nouns. Consider some of our amusing singulars and plurals. A dealer, wishing to buy a dozen of that tailor's article called a "goose," after hanging despairingly between "geese" and "gooses" wrote "Send me one tailor's goose. P.S. Send eleven more of the same." We say "mouse" and "mice," but "house" and "houses" (howzes), "blouse" and "blouses" (blowses), while we also say "grouse" and "grouse" alike in singular and plural.

Perhaps our verbs are simple in their use for the most part; but how many of us are absolutely safe on our feet with respect to the use of "may" and "can," of "flee" and "fly," of "shall" and "will," or, dare I say, even of "sit" and "set," or of "lie" and "lay" on occasion? We think we know we sit down, that the sun and the hen, set, and that we set bread. And perhaps we are quite positive as to what we and the sun have done, grammatically speaking, when we have concluded our actions. But after the setting hen has commenced to "set," has she "set," has she "sat," or has she been "seated ?" We are as confident that sun "rises" as that it "sets"; and as confident that we "raise" as that we "set" the bread, but how many of us do not vaguely wonder at times, when the process is over, whether that bread has really "risen," or whether it has not "raised" after all?

The conjugation of the verb, that bugbear in all languages, has been reduced to a trifle in English, but we must not forget the distracting irregularities in the past and perfect tenses which our children and uneducated people with logical instinct are constantly endeavoring to straighten out. Why need we say "catch" and "caught," but "snatch" and "snatched," "sing, sang, sung" but "bring, brought, brought"? We say "see, saw, seen," "saw, sawed, sawn." But put the two together into "see-saw," and behold, we say that we have "see-sawed," not that we have "seen-sawn." We have "lit," or we have "lighted" the lamp, but we have "bitten" the apple, even against the authority of the baby, who says "bited." There are those of us who would find it immensely easier to tell whether a man had been "drunk," than to know at once, and on the spot, whether the cause of his intoxication were something he "had drunk" or "had drank."

To conclude: the presence of numberless colloquial idioms, impossible to "parse" or to explain by any simple rule, such as render the plays of Shakespeare almost incomprehensible to foreigners, such as throw into despair the students of Aristophanes, these are the