“A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day. ‘In English,’ he said, ‘a double negative forms a positive. In some languages though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative.’
‘However,’ he pointed out, ‘there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.’
A voice from the back of the room piped up, ‘Yeah, right.’”1
If you consider the primary meaning of pitfall, a pit flimsily covered or camouflaged and used to capture and hold animals or men,2 and you continually commit grammatical faux pas (or fox paws as I like to call them), you may arrive at the conclusion that English is out to get you. It’s a cynical but understandable assumption, one shared by many.
After all, we speak and write a language in which “farmer” could be spelled, among many alternatives, “pharrembar.” Given the fact that “ph” makes an “f” sound, “arre” can make a pirate sound, the phonogram “mb” has a silent “b,” and “ar” sounds like “er” in words like “collar” (or “ur,” depending on your dialect or idiolect), this is a reasonable and logical conclusion. It’s also enough to drive people crazy.