In case you missed the reference in the title, Johnnie Foreigner was a disrespectful and condescending term for anybody not of English extraction. I have used it for effect, because since we lost the Empire it has acquired a rather ironic meaning.

The English language could have been custom built to confuse people attempting to learn it as a second language. Because of its mongrel nature, borrowing variously from just about any language you care to mention, it’s hugely and hilariously irregular, and this makes it an absolute sod for newcomers. I once read it is the most difficult of all to learn as a second language. French is irregular (hence some of English’s foibles), but English knocks it into a cocked hat. Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese, look a bit tricky to me too, but they’re apparently a breeze compared to my mother tongue. Even Thai, which is a tonal language where the same phonetic sound can have four or five meanings depending on the tone in which it is spoken, is an apparent walk in the park. For goodness sake, look at the spelling of phonetic. I know this is a hangover from the Greek phonos, meaning voice, but that’s one of the reasons English is so hard. We’ve borrowed bits from all over the shop. Incidentally the Greek phonos can also mean murder or slaughter, so best not to get confused.

English is at its best when it comes to names and places. Let me start with some of the odder names that will catch out the unwary.

Chalmondeley. For some reason, this is pronounced Chumley.

Featherstonehough. Not what you might think. Fanshaw.

Farquharson. You’d think this was ‘Farkwerharson’ but at Henley or Queen Charlotte’s Ball you’ll find it’s pronounced Farkerson.

Mainwaring. If you’re not a fan of ‘Dad’s Army’ you’re going to lean away from the correct Mannering.

We really go to town (haha) with placenames in English. Listening to Americans trying to get a handle on Leicestershire is a source of great amusement. How we get Lestershuh from that spelling is beyond me. Similarly Worcestershire is Wusstershuh. Not far from where I live is the township of Sawbridgeworth. Some stuffy purists insist on calling it Sapworth. It’s a slightly strange town, but does feature a stretch of road named Bonks Hill, which is worth a smile even if you’re having a bad day. My sister lives just down the road from the Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite. Some call it Slowit (rhymes with now it) but the locals eschew this and call it Slathwait.

A final point about English’s weirdness. A couple of years ago, shortly after I started blogging, I was pondering the mysteries of the many pronunciations of the syllable ough.