Thursday, 9 December 2010

Second-hand English: Food or Pood

I was on the bus travailing into the centre of Birkenhead a few mornings ago. This winters snow had the better of me and, being lazy, I could not be bothered to scrape the ice off my car. So the bus was an easy option. Several stops later two youngish women got on and sat in front of me. Let's call them Ms Loud and Ms Demure. It's better not to use their real names, and, maybe fortunately, I do not know them. It became obvious, especially from Ms Loud, that the pair were training to become primary school teachers and were, probably, on their way into college. You could not help overhearing the conversation, or at least one half of it. Ms Loud was not going to be ignored by the back row of any classroom and must have been practising this art profusely.

Despite the volume Ms Loud did not have much of interest to say apart from one piece of trivia. I guess Ms Loud must have reached the stage where she had been getting some classroom experience. She described one girl she had been teaching and this girl had the misfortune to spell the word food with a 'P'. This poor girl had ended up with the letters p-o-o-d on her test paper.

I only know two facts about the girl: she was seven and she was a girl. Ms Loud seemed shocked by this error and admonish the girls reputation in somewhat forthright terms. Ms Demure, on the other hand, did not say very much.

But is this faux pas quite so irrational. After all, in English, the 'F' sound is not that dissimilar to the 'ph' sound. Just think of words like: phonograph, phantom, physical and numerous others.

While pood does indeed look strange on paper you could imagine fuse spelt phuse, or indeed phase spelt fase - odd as they appear at first sight. It's just a convention that food is spelt f-o-o-d and not ph-o-o-d. Maybe the seven year old was not as crazy as first appeared.

I don't think I would have liked Ms Loud as a teacher. I'd much prefer the imagination of the seven year old.

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