As we bid farewell to the holiday season (whatever you may celebrate), here are a few final presents to amuse you. Share these with your children or grandchildren and marvel at how illogical (and fun!) English can be.

• Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?

• If a tin horn is made of tin, and a brass horn is made of brass, what’s a fog horn made of?

• Why is something sent on a ship called cargo, but something sent in a car called a shipment? And why is one thing sent on and another sent in?

• Why is it a pair of pants, or a pair of glasses, of a TV set, when there’s only one of it?

• How can you both fill out and fill in a form?

• If a set of stairs is called a staircase, why is a set of steps not called a stepcase? And is there a difference between stairs and steps? While we’re at it, why is a set of stairs between floors called a flight?

• If it makes sense that a person who handles cash is a cashier, why is a person who handles your investments called abroke r?

• When you pack, why do you put your suits in a garment bag, but your garmentsin asuit case?

• Why do people recite their lines in a play, but play at a recital?

• How can things burn up and burn down?

• Why is it that your feet smell but your nose runs?

• Why do you have to turn off an alarm that already went off?

• How come awise man is respected but a wise guy is not?

• How can a chance be both fat and slim?

• How can you overlook something you’re supposed to oversee?

• If musicians have a practice to get better, why do doctors have a practice?

• Why are they called apartments when they’re all together?

• Why does night fall, but day breaks?

• Why do we say uncle when we’ve had enough? (I think I heard a few of those …)


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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years.