If It’s “Sing, Sang, Sung,” Why Isn’t It “Bring, Brang, Brung”?

Cover of "The Oxford English Dictionary (...

Cover via Amazon

Or “think, thank, thunk,” for that matter.

The more I study and learn about the English language, the more I realize that there are more exceptions than there are rules. Still, that doesn’t deter me from sinking my teeth into the many conundrums of the English language. From the tender age of seven, when I heard a boy in my second grade class say “brung,”  I have been a grammar snob.

By the fifth grade, my English teacher introduced an exercise in which we had to copy a few sentences off the classroom’s overhead projector, inserting corrections where there were mistakes in her copy. One day, I raised my hand and pointed out that “weird” was spelled wrong. I remember she squinted at the exercise, as if wondering what I meant. She had it spelled “wierd” and hadn’t even caught it. I explained that “weird” was weird because it broke the i-before-e-except-after-c rule.

Ah, the English language, so full of idiosyncrasies. It’s no wonder foreigners have a difficult time mastering it, not to mention natives. It is an ever-morphing language, and many words that were used in one way a hundred years (or more) ago have completely different uses now.

One of my college professors touted the Oxford English Dictionary (an amazing resource, by the way). It doesn’t just give definitions but the etymology of words, as well. Her example was how you might compliment a girl by saying she is a doll. This wasn’t always the case, however. An early definition of “doll” was actually “prostitute.”

And that doesn’t even start to cover regional or national differences. When I realized that the Harry Potter series had different word choices and phrases in the Bloomsbury editions (the original ones printed in England), I immediately bought every single one because I wanted the authentic versions. I had no idea that “pudding” meant “dessert.” And, in Order of the Phoenix, I almost busted a gut when George Weasley commented (in a conversation about fifth year exams), “Fred and I managed to keep our peckers up somehow” (205). I get the feeling that that doesn’t mean the same thing across the pond as it does over here, otherwise it wouldn’t have been in a young adult novel.

If you’re a wordsmith, editor, or just flummoxed by this whole language thing, I recommend Grammar Girl or this list of words that aren’t. Or if you feel like throwing your hands in the air and giving up, remember Gallagher? His video will entertain you, at least, even if it doesn’t provide all the answers. And I would love to hear about your favorite misused word or phrase. You never know—we could popularize it enough to get it accepted into the dictionary.