As word lover Richard Lederer pointed out in one of his books, the English language is crazy. Lederer observes, “to explore the paradoxes and vagaries of English, we find that hot dogs can be cold, darkrooms can be lit, homework can be done in school, nightmares can take place in broad daylight while morning sickness and daydreaming can take place at night, tomboys are girls and midwives can be men, hours — especially happy hours and rush hours — often last longer than sixty minutes, quicksand works very slowly, boxing rings are square, silverware and glasses can be made of plastic and tablecloths of paper… and most bathrooms don’t have any baths in them.” You get the idea.
Lederer’s book inspired Josh White Jr.’s song “English is Crazy” (most people are familiar with folk singer Pete Seeger’s version, plays on banjo). Of course, Lederer’s waggish observations are not lost on comedians who mine the vast English lexicon for words and phrases that make you scratch your head and utter “WTF.” Two of the most brilliant comedians who placed the English language under the comedy microscope are George Carlin and Stephen Wright. Here are some of the most amusing musings on the English language, many from Carlin and Wright.
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
How can a fat chance and slim chance be the same thing?
I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where is the self-help section?” She said that if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.
If a deaf kid swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?
If a turtle loses its shell is it naked or homeless?
If con is the opposite of pro, is congress the opposite of progress?
If flying is so safe, why is the airport called ‘terminal’?
If people can have triplets and quadruplets why not singlets and doublets?
If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?
I went to a restaurant that “serves breakfast at any time” so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.
Is Atheism a non-prophet organization?
Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?
Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do “practice?”
I saw a sign that said “Coming soon — a 24-hour restaurant.” Why would they open and close it so quickly?
I went to a general store. They wouldn’t let me buy anything specifically.
The reason the mainstream is thought of as a stream is because of its shallowness.
What’s another word for thesaurus?
Where do forest rangers go to “get away from it all?”
Why are there braille signs at the drive-through windows at the bank?
Why is that when stars are out, they’re visible, but when the lights are out, they’re invisible?
Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?
Why are boxing rings square?
Why do we drive on a parkway but park in a driveway?
Why is it that night falls but never breaks and day breaks but never falls?
Why don’t you ever see the headline, “Psychic Wins Lottery”?
Why is “abbreviated” such a long word?
Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?
Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
Why isn’t phonetics spelled phonetically?
Would a fly that loses its wings be called a “walk?”
For further reading: Brain Droppings by George Carlin
Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Languageby Richard Lederer
Lederer on Language: A Celebration of English, Good Grammar, and Wordplay by Richard Lederer