A reader from my own city of The City, California writes:
I have a question for you: Why is pee and poo spelled with an “ee” and “oo”? Why can’t it just be one “o” and one “e”? Like me. It’s the same sound. I understand to and too, but come on….I just don’t get it. This question has be BUGGING me all week.
I should note at the outset, the English language is a rich tapestry woven from many sources, most of which (if they were anthropomorphized) would be steampunk hipsters. That is to say, it’s pretty effed up.
Additionally: although pee and poo both start with “p” and are flushed down the same toilet, they are hardly linguistic equals. It’s nearly impossible to address both of them simultaneously unless one is some kind of genius.
So I will address both of them simultaneously.
Pop quiz: How many vowel sounds are there in the English language?
If you said five (and sometimes six), you’re wrong. Dead wrong. The letters “a”, “e”, “i”, “o”, and “u” (and sometimes “y”) represent dozens (2) of sounds.
The truth is, vowels can sound like anything. It’s all just grunting. When figuring out how to pronounce a new word, we rely on context and experience, not the individual letters.
That being said, it seems obvious that pee should be spelled like me. Just like be and he and we. Duh. It’s plain to se. So let’s just stop all this bothering and have a cup of te. I think words that don’t follow the rules should have to pay a fe. When I got home last night I unlocked the door with my ke, but it was dark and I knocked into the table with my ne.
It’s even clearer with poo. It should look like to and do. It makes sense to me and it makes sense to yo. Ho could disagree? I’m going to see some animals at the zo. Uh oh, I just stepped in some go. I’m calling a lawyer and we’re gonna so.
I only kid, of course. I like to poke fun. (Fun is what I call bums passed out in the street.) Rather than asking why pee isn’t spelled like me, perhaps we should be asking why me isn’t spelled like pee. When comparing the sounds and spellings of to, too, and poo, poo isn’t the odd one out; to is!
Trying to understand English spelling and pronunciation is like trying to understand math. It’s just not possible. I’m afraid you have WASTED your whole week.
Final Note! Pee is a euphemism for piss, first recorded in the late 1700s. Invented words (rather than those borrowed or adapted from other languages) tend to have less ambiguous spellings.
If you’d like to learn more about pee and poo, please visit your local Mission District of San Francisco.
Send your scatological questions to conlan “at” THISISCONLAN dotcom.