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Why English Drives People Crazy

April 24, 2018

American folk singer Pete Seeger began challenging the "powers that be" at an early age through poetic lyrics that often infringed on political and cultural rhetoric. After two decades of FBI investigations related to a letter he had written to the War Department during World War II objecting to the idea that all Japanese-Americans be deported at the end of the conflict, Seeger was called before the Congressional "Un-American Activities Committee" and sentenced to ten years in prison as a social activist. Although the sentence was overturned a couple years later, Seeger's name had found its way to the top of many blacklists, which is something the artist's career never overcame.

Courageously sticking to his purpose as a poet and songwriter, Pete Seeger would exercise his First Amendment rights and continued to entertain a growing fan base until his death in 2014. One of his most requested pieces would be a song that he and Josh White Jr. wrote based on Richard Lederer's Best Selling Book, "Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Language". Numerous sets of lyrics exist for the song. Listed below is the version that Seeger sang in 2005 when asked to speak at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage as a Legacy Honoree:


English Is CUH-RAY-ZEE


English is the most widely used language in the history of the planet.
One out of every seven human beings can speak or read it.
It has the largest vocabulary, perhaps two million words...
But let's face it:
English is cuh-ray-zee!

Just a few examples: There's no egg in eggplant, no pine or apple in pineapple.
A writer writes, but do fingers fing? Do grocers groce.

Quicksand works slowly; boxing rings are square.
English is cuh-ray-zee!

If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn't the plural of booth be beeth?
It's one goose, two geese. Why not one moose, two meese?
The plural of index is indices; should it be one Kleenex, two Kleenices? 
English is cuh-ray-zee!

In what other language do you drive on the parkway and park on the driveway? Recite at a play and play at a recital
Ship by truck but send cargo by ship? 
Have noses that run and feet that smell?
English is cuh-ray-zee!

You have to marvel at the lunacy of a language in which your house can burn down...
While it burns up. You fill out a form by filling it in.
If the teacher taught, why isn't it true that a preacher praught? And if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
English is cuh-ray-zee!

Well, English was invented by people, not computers
And reflects the creativity of the human race.
So, that's why... When I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this rap, 
I end it.

English is cuh-ray-zee!


Maybe Seeger mellowed with age or perhaps he was struck with a lapse of memory when performing in Washington D.C. But, the closing line he incorporated in most versions was unexplainably missing on that day:

If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?

Who knows, maybe a deal was struck with Congress to eliminate the somewhat defammatory punch line in lieu of going to prison. Nonetheless, Seeger was marginally exonerated a few days before President Barrack Obama's inauguration when he and Bruce Springsteen sang "This Land Is Your Land" on the national lawn. Ironically, it was Woody Guthrie's lyrics to the song written in 1945 that was responsible for Washington labeling Seeger and Guthrie as Communist supporters. A song that for many Americans has become their unofficial national anthem.

Our version of the English language really is Crazy at times!

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