If you can pronounce every word correctly in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers worldwide. It is called The Chaos and was originally written by the Dutch writer Gerard Nolst Trenité (a.k.a. Charivarius). He wanted to prove the extreme irregularity of the English language. His chef-d’oeuvre contains over 800 words nightmarish to spell/pronounce. We are inviting you to challenge your patience and tongue by reading out loud this hard nut to crack!
Enjoy the ‘almost correct’ version recited by the YouTuber Jimmy Jams here:
Who Is Gerard Nolst Trenité
Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946) considered himself a “Dutch observer of English.” He studied classical literature and moved on to law and political science from 1890 to 1894, but never completed any courses. In 1894, he embarked on a trip around the world, which ended in San Francisco. There, he tutored the children of the Dutch consul. Gerard returned to the Netherlands two years later and resumed his studies while preparing to qualify for teaching English. After getting the relevant certificate in 1898, he also obtained his political science doctorate in 1901.
In the following two decades, Trenité worked as an English and Civil Engineering teacher in Haarlem. He published several schoolbooks:
The Nutshell. Shortest English grammar (1906),
First Pictorial word book (1908)
Drop your foreign accent. Vocal gymnastics (1909)
He gained fame under the name Charivarius, which he used for his weekly column in De Groene Amsterdammer from 1903 to 1940. The column mostly featured ironic and cynical rhymes. Although he was very popular among Dutch people, linguists didn’t take him too seriously.
What Is The Chaos
The Chaos, a poem that would go on to become popular outside the Netherlands, was included in the later editions of Drop your foreign accent. Gerard wrote the poem to demonstrate all the irregularities of English spelling and pronunciation with 800 examples of irregular spelling. The first version had 146 lines of text, but “the most complete version ever likely to emerge” has 247 lines and was published in 1993 by the Spelling Society.
The Chaos represents a mammoth catalog of the most notorious irregularities of traditional English orthography, skillfully versified into couplets with alternating feminine and masculine rhymes.
With English being the prime language of international communication today, it constitutes no less of a problem than the unpredictability of sound-symbol correspondence which is so bewailed by native speakers of English.
Finally, here goes that lovely poem – an utter word bucket challenge:
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 dress 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 is said to rime with “darky.”
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!
What about transcribing it back to text? Even heard from a professional actor, that sounds like a mission hardly possible, n’est-ce pas?