Quirks of the English Language

Now I am writing for a living, there are many curiosities that strike me about the language of English, seemingly contradictory grammatical rules, strange spellings, silent letters, that dreaded “i before e except after c” that has so many exceptions. This thread is just a dumping ground for some of the weirder quirks so please forgive me for the random thoughts that are about to follow.

Why isn’t “onomatopoeia” an onomatopoeia?

Why isn’t “palindrome” a palindrome?

Why “phonetic” isn’t spelt phonetically?

If the noun is lightning, why isn’t the verb lightninging?

Why isn’t “diminutive” a diminutive word?

Similarly, why is “abbreviation” such a long word?

Why does the word “superfluous” have so many syllables?

Why this sentence makes sense: “Every job that he had had had had no effect on his desire to settle down”

Why does “thesaurus” have no synonyms?

Why aren’t “ruly”, “gruntled” and “peccable” proper words when you can be unruly, disgruntled and impeccable?

Why do “overlook” and “oversee” have opposite meanings?

Why we use “near miss” when we narrowly avoid something – near miss should mean it nearly missed… surely?


If anybody would like to answer any of those, then give it your best shot!

23 responses to “Quirks of the English Language”

  1. I have struggled with exactly the same thing! Like why we call things buildings when they are not being built?

    Brilliant post!

    1. Haha that’s a great one!

      Those construction workers are building a building building. 🙂

  2. Things that make you go hmmmmm…..
    I particularly like the “had had had had”

    1. It’s a great one and I can’t think of any more instances where the same word can appear four times in sequence like that

  3. Obviously superfluous has many syllables because it is superfluous.

  4. great examples, my particular favourites were the had had had had one and the near miss, I really had never thought that the near miss won was wrong for all these year, but near hit doesn’t sound the same.

    1. Since realising, I have preferred to use the term “close shave” which on reflection, doesn’t really work as a metaphor either!

      1. haha, it is amazing the amount of sayings, that don’t make sense.

        Should I have done the prompt today I think I would have gone with the term “could care less” which indicates you care, but the whole point of saying it is that you don’t care, ie couldn’t care less.

      2. I only hear Americans say “could care less” and have never heard a fellow Brit use it. Great video from David Mitchell 🙂

      3. Ill have a look at that when home from work, thanks for the link 🙂

  5. Love this response to the prompt. Very clever and food for much thought. I’ve been told English is a tough language to conquer and your list of questions perhaps provides a clue as to why this is so. I can’t single out a single favorite from your list. i like them all. I’ve seen such lists before, but yours is original!!!

    1. Thanks 🙂 Most of them have come from my own thoughts but when I went looking for possible answers, it seems I am not the only one to have come up with them.

  6. When I taught English, I used to tell my students that for every grammar rule, there is an exception. Get used to it. English is arguably one of the most inconsistent languages in existence. I believe part of the reason for that is that English is really a conglomeration of nearly every other language in existence, or not. Fun to play around with, in any event.

    1. Thanks for your comments! A Germanic language that took influence from Norse, Danish and other Germanic dialects which later also took on bits of French and Latin as well as some of the Celtic languages it supplanted. Yes it really is a mongrel language.

      If you’re at all interested, I have an ongoing series of the origins of English



      1. Ooooo 🙂 Thanks! I’ll go take a look!

  7. I liked the phrase “why doesn’t the word thesaurus have any synonyms?” All the best to keep writing more…

    1. Thesaurus it seems, doesn’t need a synonym 🙂

  8. I love these! Had had had had… hahaha

      1. Oh wow… I think I’ll ponder that whilst playing a game of Had!

  9. Good one! And yes, I agree that superfluous has too many syllables.

  10. Now my brain hurts, LOL.

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