If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud. – A post on Facebook titled “English Pronunciation”
In 1945, a British soldier found a tattered typescript of ‘The Chaos‘, a classic English poem well-known for its versified catalogue of irregularities of English spelling (orthography) and pronunciation, in a girls’ High School in Germany and gave it to Tom Hazelwood, who gave it to Terry De’Ath, who gave it to Chris Upward (1939-2002), Senior Lecturer in German Aston University Birmingham, UK, and Editor-in-chief, Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society from 1985-2000 and the author of Cut Spelling Handbook.
Chris Upward also received a rather different version of the poem from Benno Jost-Westendorf of Recklinghausen. It seems that universities in South Germany used this poem in teaching English. However, No information on the author was available from any source.
Both versions received by Chris Upward appeared as carelessly copied from an original, but it was possible to correct errors in one by reference to the other.
The Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) Newsletter carried an incomplete, rather rough version in the summer of 1986 (pp.17-21) under the heading ‘Author Unknown‘, with a parallel transcription into an early form of Cut Spelling.
Hubert A. Greven’s Elements of English Phonology, published in Paris in 1972, introduced the poem quoting 48 lines from it to prove to French students how impossible English is to pronounce (to read aloud), and by way of acknowledgment said that the author “would like to pay a suitable tribute to Mr. G. Nolst Trenité for permission to copy his poem The Chaos.“
Since then a stream of further information and textual variants appeared, culminating in 1993-94 with the most complete and authoritative version of the poem ever likely to emerge ripe for republication in the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society.
The Dutch literary (rhymed prose, drama), Anglicist and language critic Dr Gerard Nolst Trenité was born in Utrecht on July 20, 1870. He passed away on October 9, 1946, in Haarlem.
Gerard Nolst Trenité published under the pseudonym Charivarius. His poem The Chaos demonstrates many of the idiosyncrasies of English spelling. The first version of 146 lines of text appeared in an appendix to his 1920 textbook ‘Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelscheuitspraakoefeningen‘. It has about 800 of the worst irregularities in English spelling and pronunciation. Later, in 1992-93, The Spelling Society published “the most complete and authoritative version ever likely to emerge,” that has 274 lines.
The version I have reproduced below is essentially the author’s own final text, as also published by New River Project in 1993. A few minor corrections have, however, been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred. Words with clashing spellings or pronunciations are printed here in italics.
The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1922)
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; Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sewit! Just compare heart, hear 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: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir; Woven, oven, how and low, Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Say, expecting fraud and trickery: Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore, Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles, Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing, Same, examining, but mining, Scholar, vicar, and cigar, Solar, mica, war and far.
From “desire”: desirable–admirable from “admire”, Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier, Topsham, brougham, renown, but known, Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,