"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." -Genesis 2:24.
Cleave, it says. Creative writing assignment: use the following three words in sentence that might be a headline in a grocery store tabloid: man, wife, cleave.
Funny word, cleave, but it is not alone in its contranistic confusion. The word sanction is another that ought to be stricken from common use or spelled in two different ways. How about 'fast'? Fast has two meanings of the word that are contranyms: to hold tightly and rapid movement [not to mention abstaining from food]. The word bolt conjures up two distinct and opposite situations.
Of course, some words have so many distinct meanings that they ought to go out of existence altogether. Take fair, for example. Does it denote complexion, weather, an athletic verdict, impartiality, or middling? Naturally, there are 'fair' nouns to consider as well as its homophone, fare.
English is a wonderfully rich yet oft times confusing language to learn. My 5-year-old grandson was awaiting his pancakes at Bob Evans the other day, practicing his spelling on the blank side of the place mat, orange crayon in hand. His phonetics, superb, his spelling, not. I watched as he sounded out each letter, then penned the result. After about 5 'wrong spellings' he threw his crayon down and announced, "I hate spelling!" Rather, and what he has yet to learn, English has accumulated a large number of words whose phonics do not resemble the correct arrangement of letters. Naturally, 'correctness' has morphed over time as English moved through its phases from old, through middle, to modern English and is still evolving. Donuts and thru, for example, make much more sense.
As a student I hated spelling too and even now, many decades from that classroom desk, I often stumble. My diction is excellent- thank you parents- as is my grammar, yet I empathise with immigrants of another tongue who must learn English from scratch. I've watched and listened to each of my grandchildren 'master' the sound of the language and laughed [quietly] as they made perfectly sensible gaffs. One used 'lello' for the color 'yellow' and all, at one time during their trial said, 'digged.' Who could know irregular verb conjugations at the age of three? Shakespeare penned the line, "the two kinsmen digg'd their grave with weeping."
Tooth-teeth, booth-beeth? Man-men, fan-fen? Brother-brethren, mother-methren? Sheep-sheep, pig-pig? House-houses, mouse-mouses? By the way, are there two 'z' sounds in houses or just one? And does the word, either, begin with the long i-sound or long-e? What about i-before-e except when sounding the long-a? Perhaps the Irish have the correct pronunciation of either [aye-ther].
My youngest grandson, the spelling-hater, for the longest time used the voiced dental fricative when saying, thing. How could he know that the [TH] sound could be voiced, that, and voiceless, thing? What happens when he learns the name of the river flowing through London or the nation west of Laos?
The- pronounced either [th uh] or [th ee] is often misused, mostly by youngsters but frequently by adults. By the way, is that [uh-dult] or [add-ult]? Further, why the hell do we have that dental fricative anyhow? It clearly is an unnatural positioning of tongue and teeth, which is why so that few languages have the sound. [Dis] or [duh] is easily substituted by non-native speakers and those Americans with no upper teeth.
So goeth our native tongue amidst ever-so many twists, turns and culs-de-sac.
The Clever Cleaver
Cleave unto thy wife, reads the believer.
Yet, on her, use not thy cleaver