Composed well over a century ago, this bit of light verse by Charles Battell Loomis nicely illustrates the vagaries of English spelling and pronunciation. Here's how the poem "O-U-G-H" was introduced in an issue of The Indiana School Journal in 1894: Let the school teacher write in a column on the black board the words plough, through, cough, hiccough, rough, though, lough. Then read the following verses to the class, pointing to each of the written words as he comes to it and pronouncing it as the puzzled Frenchman did. The moral will be as obvious as the mirth, and a difficult spelling lesson will be learned incidentally. But you really don't have to write anything on the board. Just try reading it aloud.
A Fresh Hack at an Old Knot
by Charles Battell Loomis
I'm taught p-l-o-u-g-h
S'all be pronouncé "plow."
"Zat's easy w'en you know," I say,
"Mon Anglais, I'll get through!"
My teacher say zat in zat case,
O-u-g-h is "oo."
And zen I laugh and say to him,
"Zees Anglais make me cough."
He say "Not 'coo' but in zat word,
O-u-g-h is 'off,'"
"Oh, Sacre bleu! Such varied sounds
Of words make me hiccough!"
O-u-g-h is 'up'
In hiccough." Zen I cry, "No more,
You make my t'roat feel rough."
"Non, non!" he cry, "You are not right;
O-u-g-h is 'uff.'"
I say, "I try to spik your words,
I cannot spik zem though."
"In time you'll learn, but now you're wrong!
O-u-g-h is 'owe'"
"I'll try no more, I s'all go mad,
I'll drown me in ze lough!"
"But ere you drown yourself," said he,
"O-u-g-h is 'ock.'"
He taught no more, I held him fast
And killed him wiz a rough.