Anyone who speaks English, or has tried to learn it, will be well aware of the amazing array of odd pronunciations we have in the language. These are mostly caused by amassing words from so many other languages over hundreds of years, but nevertheless make learning the mapping between what’s written, the context it’s written in and how it’s pronounced a very tricky goal.
There have been various stories, essays and verses written to highlight many ambiguities and irregularities present in the pronunciation of different but similarly spelt words. An excellent example of this is a lengthy poem called The Chaos, written by Gerard Nolst Trenité (aka Charivarius), 1870-1946, and published in 1920 in the 4th edition of his 1909 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen.
Since its original publication it has been modified and reworked several times, with the original author’s version being 146 lines long and his last version (in the 7th edition of the book in 1944) was nearly twice as long. Various subsequent updates and revisions have been made around the world since then. The version presented by The English Spelling Society is 274 lines and highlights over 800 irregularities, and is preceded by a detailed history on the poem.
The poem’s first lines suggest it is written as if to one of Trenité’s students, Susy.
Anyway, here’s the authoritative version as presented by The English Spelling Society, with every tenth line numbered and set out like the author’s original version, with alternate couplets indented and problem words italicised.
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verseI will keep you, Susy, busy,
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;Pray, console your loving poet,
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it! 10
Just compare heart, hear and heard,Sword and sward, retain and Britain
Dies and diet, lord and word.
(Mind the latter how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade,Now I surely will not plague you
Say - said, pay - paid, laid but plaid.
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak, 20
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail , choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Same, examining, but mining, 30
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,From "desire": desirable - admirable from "admire",
Solar, mica, war and far.
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,One, anemone, Balmoral,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind, 40
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinthHave you ever yet endeavoured
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,Billet does not end like ballet;
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet. 50
Blood and flood are not like food,Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Right! Your pronunciation's OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,Is your R correct in higher?
Friend and fiend, alive and live. 60
Keats asserts it rhymes with Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,Say abscission with precision,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhymeTwopence, threepence, tease are easy,
If I mentioned paradigm?
But cease, crease, grease and greasy? 70
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rabies, but lullabies.
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You'll envelop lists, I hope,Would you like some more? You'll have it!
In a linen envelope.
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. SheikLiberty, library, heave and heaven,
Does not sound like Czech but ache. 80
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,Mark the difference, moreover,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,Camel, constable, unstable,
Chalice, but police and lice,
Principle, disciple, label. 90
Petal, penal, and canal,Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,
Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",
But it is not hard to tellMuscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Senator, spectator, mayor, 100
Has the A of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Desert, but desert, address.
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,"Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker",
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.
Quoth he, "than liqueur or liquor", 110
Making, it is sad but true,Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
In bravado, much ado.
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose. 120
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,And I bet you, dear, a penny,
Valentine and magazine.
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Rhyme with herring or with stirring? 130
Prison, bison, treasure trove,Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Treason, hover, cover, cove,
Rhymes (but piebald doesn't) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,Don't be down, my own, but rough it,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,Say in sounds correct and sterling
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn. 140
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,Now you need not pay attention
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)
To such sounds as I don't mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,Nor are proper names included,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;
Though I often heard, as you did, 150
Funny rhymes to unicorn,No, my maiden, coy and comely,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
I don't want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proudBut mind trivial and vial,
Is no better than McLeod.
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme. 160
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you're not supposed to sayHad this invalid invalid
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Paramour, enamoured, flighty, 170
Episodes, antipodes,Please don't monkey with the geyser,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.
Don't peel 'taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Nature, stature and mature.
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,The TH will surely trouble you
Wan, sedan and artisan. 180
More than R, CH or W.
Say then these phonetic gems:Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
There are more but I forget 'em -
Wait! I've got it: Anthony,The archaic word albeit
Lighten your anxiety.
Does not rhyme with eight - you see it; 190
With and forthwith, one has voice,Shoes, goes, does . Now first say: finger;
One has not, you make your choice.
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,Hero, heron, query, very,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Parry, tarry, fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath. 200
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,Though the difference seems little,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Put, nut, granite, and unite
Feoffer  does, and zephyr, heifer. 210
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibiSea, idea, guinea, area,
Gyrate, dowry and awry. 220
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,Compare alien with Italian,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,Say aver, but ever, fever,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver. 230
Never guess - it is not safe,Starry, granary, canary,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tearMind the O of off and often
Do not rhyme with here but heir. 240
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.Seven is right, but so is even,
Liable, but Parliament.
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen, 250
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,A of valour, vapid, vapour,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,Differ like diverse and divers,
I of antichrist and grist,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,Pronunciation - think of Psyche! -
Polish, Polish, poll and poll. 260
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won't it make you lose your witsIt's a dark abyss or tunnel
Writing groats and saying 'grits'?
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Saying lather, bather, father? 270
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
Hiccough has the sound of sup...
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!
 – it’s examples of words like this that indicate the age of this poem, as the term studding-sail (pronounced stunsail) has mostly fallen from use.
 – this is the plural of the noun doe, i.e. two or more female deer, not the third person present indicative form of the verb to do.