“English is an immensely complicated language to get right,” writes Mark Forsyth, “and native speakers often have no idea of its strangeness.” In fact, he adds, it’s “largely made up of the rules we don’t know that we know.” For example:
You are utterly familiar with the rule of ablaut reduplication. You’ve been using it all your life. It’s just that you’ve never heard of it. But if somebody said the words “zag-zig” or “cross-criss” you would know, deep down in your loins, that they were breaking a sacred rule of language. You just wouldn’t know which one.
Speaking of loins, Forsyth explains how, when it comes to verse, rhythm is far more important than rhyme:
It’s the subtle difference when we record a record or present a present or tell a rebel to rebel. It’s a difference that is very hard for people to learn, and is the main reason that, in a strong French accent, there’s no difference between happiness and a penis.
His book, The Elements of Eloquence, would make a great gift for the word nerd in your life. Like, you know, me. I mean, I do have a birthday coming up.