The Chaos

1920 poem written by Gerard Nolst Trenité demonstrating the irregularity of English spelling and pronunciation

The Chaos is a poem that shows the irregularities of the English language pronounciation. It was written by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946). Noist Trenité was a Dutch language teacher. The first version of the poem can be found in his book Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen which was published in 1920.The poem shows that there are many words that are not pronounced the way they are written. Originally, it was made of 146 lines of verse. Until 1992/1993, decades after his death, Spelling Society extended it to 274 lines. In total, the poem covers 800 cases of irregular English pronunciation.[1]

Partial text


These lines are set out as in the author's version, with alternate couplets indented and the problematic words italicised.[1]

Dearest creature in Creation,

Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

It will keep you, Susy, busy,

Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

Tear in eye your dress you'll tear.
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,

Pray, console your loving poet,

Make my coat look new, dear, sew it?

Just compare heart, beard 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 break, steak, but bleak and streak,

Previous, precious; fuchsia, via;

Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,

Cloven, oven; how and low;
Script, receipt; shoe, poem, toe,

Hear me say devoid of trickery,

daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,


Finally: which rhymes with "enough,"
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?

Hiccough has the sound of "cup"......

My advice is—give it up!



The poem was likely dedicated to Susanne Delacruix (the" Dearest creature of Creation"). She is named in the 5th line, as Susy.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Upward, Chris (2004). "The Classic Concordance of Cacographic Chaos". The Spelling Society. Archived from the original on April 15, 2005. Retrieved 2005-04-15.