Quirks of English and How the Words we use Matter so Much

English Village by Fietzfotos CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay

The English language is one of the most power­ful commu­nic­a­tions tools on the planet. Yet there are many quirks of English, that irk, annoy, or provide great humour.


2.1 Billion People

With the English language being used by in excess of 2.1 billion people around the globe it has become, arguably, the most popular language on the planet. When we look around the globe we can see every­one has their quirks when they use the language. You do not have to look beyond the bound­ary of London to see that there are so many accents:

  • London Map by WikiMedia CommonsReceived Pronunciation, or Standard English, the common south­ern tongue, encour­aged for BBC presenters and actors. Also used widely in offices around the city.
  • Cockney and Cockney rhyming slang.
  • South London (distinct from Cockney) cover­ing the area just south of the river.
  • Croydon and Sutton accents. Related to the Surrey accent and South London tongues.
  • Estuary English (spoken south of the Thames along the estuary).
  • East End, as made famous by the TV show East Enders, sometimes this may blend with Cockney.
  • Dagenham, related to the East End and Essex accents, but more distinct, found from Ilford, East Ham out along the north­ern shores of the Thames estuary.
  • Essex, a distinct accent spoken in the north-east of the city.
  • Middlesex, spoken in the west of the city.
  • Chiswick, a refined accent spoken in a small area in the west of the city.
  • Hertfordshire, spoken in the north-west of the city
  • Berkshire, related to the Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire accents spoken on the western and north-west edge of the city.
  • Twickenham, anoth­er refined accent spoken in a small area in the south-west of the city.
  • Richmond/Kingston, spoken in a neigh­bour­ing boroughs of the south­w­est of the city.
  • Surrey, related to the Richmond and Kingston accents on the south-western edge of the city.

Within each accent there are so many quirks of English, used by people who have a mix of backgrounds. One of my brother-in-laws speaks with a distinct East-End accent, yet his upbring­ing in Mombasa, Kenya shows through.


Quirks of English


It takes a Londoner to distin­guish between these 15 dialects, there are probably a further 50 distinct accents found within 50 miles of the edge of Greater London. As we expand across the globe there are possibly thousands of distinct accents used within this great language. Living in Canada I can detect 5 distinct accents in Canada and about 8 or 9 across the USA. Canadians and Americans tell me there are more. It may be true but, either I simply haven’t encountered them, or have not heard enough to distin­guish them. Add in the variet­ies of English spoken in India, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries and you have an inter­est­ing and eclect­ic mix used by people every day of the week.

Why this discus­sion on accent? Well one of the greatest challenges of being under­stood is how we all use words, and sometimes the words we don’t use which can make or break a specif­ic conver­sa­tion. For example, some people who have a wide knowledge of English, yet when they speak or write they miss words out. The reason being because they think in their own language and then trans­late that into English, the missing words corres­pond to those which have no place in their own language.

When a non-native speak­er speaks with a native English speak­er that can cause of some friction, especially as the missing words are a basic part of the language.


Non-Native Speaker

Seeing eye to eye - Royalty Free Image from IMSI

Trouble is many native English speak­ers get frustrated because they find it diffi­cult to under­stand the non-native speak­er. Realistically they should encour­age that person to improve their usage, instead of using it as a source of name calling and backbit­ing. This frustra­tion is at the heart of many commu­nic­a­tions problems and can sometimes cause friction in the workplace.

This requires people to think differ­ently. I think of it as they know a second language, where­as I only know one.

It is through conver­sa­tion that a non-native speak­er is encour­aged to improve their language usage. They hear the correct way to say things and over time mirror those words in their own speech. This can though lead to other problems, such as mirror­ing the words used in the wrong context. This becomes anoth­er of those Quirks of English. But, the native English speak­er should explain the correct usage and in time each problem gets correc­ted in their speech. Don’t assume the non-native speak­er has no willing­ness to improve.

Writing is a separ­ate issue as many non-native speak­ers do not read well in English. Reading is often the key to improv­ing how you write in this language.


Foreign Expressions

Quirks of EnglishSpeech and conver­sa­tion with all of those dialects, accents, quirks of English at play can make commu­nic­a­tion inter­est­ing and sometimes very colour­ful

The area in north-east England around Newcastle is where many of the locals speak in a Geordie accent. Many outside of that area feel this is one of the harshest accents used. The same could be said of the Scouse accent (from the Liverpool area) or again the Glaswegian tongue, whose lexico­logy is strongly influ­enced by certain Gaelic substrata. It is true some of these region­al­ised dialects are hard to under­stand and this has also been said of the swamp people in Louisiana, not that I have person­al exper­i­enced this tongue.

A 100-year-old book, sitting on my bookshelf complains about the intro­duc­tion of Scotticisms and how their usage is destroy­ing the English language. The same has been said of Americanisms. Moving on a hundred years, our language has developed. Every day new words are added whose source is American, Australian, French, Spanish, Latin, Zulu, Chinese, or Indian, even some come from slang usage. Such are the quirks of English. Arguably our language is all the more rich because of it (although I feel some words, like “selfie,” have no place in mainstream usage, they are a modern day slang).

We should encour­age unific­a­tion of this language. Bring togeth­er common elements, back into a single language codex. I am not saying this will be easy, but it is essen­tial for future devel­op­ment of English.


Other Related Material

Do you have you quirks, special words, or local dialect? Even though I speak what would be referred to as Standard English I am aware that I have my own quirks, includ­ing some Canadianization, that means I say ‘gas’ instead of ‘petrol’.




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1 Comment

  1. I have a New York/ Bostonian accent even though I was raised in the South I never lost it. My mother was huge on annun­ci­ation and not using slang. I can mimic the Southern twang. I picked up from my fiancé who is from Alabama. My quirk would be I sort of sing words ending with“a” and “ar”. Weird!!! I don’t know where in my travels I have picked that up.

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