Words & Stuff

bbb: Rhyme-Time Chime

(17 January 1999)

There's a musical group called the Pomo Afro Homos. A couple years back Kam, Mykle, and I starting riffing on that theme and ended up deciding that a black gay deconstructionist obnoxious Beatnik vagrant clown who works in a certain hotel in San Francisco (having moved there from New York) is an:

Afro homo pomo mofo boho hobo Soho-SoMa Hojo bozo

(Try saying that ten times fast!)

In a similar vein, this item was going around in email a year or so back:

Senators William B. Spong of Virginia and Hiram Fong of Hawaii sponsored a bill recommending the mass ringing of church bells to welcome the arrival in Hong Kong of the U.S. Table Tennis Team after its tour of Communist China.

The bill failed to pass, cheating the Senate out of passing the Spong-Fong Hong Kong Ping Pong Ding Dong Bell Bill.

In another similar vein, the Portmanteau Poets came up with the idea of a Cononavowel (aka Conovowel) Poem, which alternates vowels and consonants. The example Cononavowel Poems they provide use only the vowels A and O, resulting in an effect rather reminiscent of the Panama palindrome, plus something rather like our independently developed description above.

And Dominus pointed out to me recently that the verb "moil" has two synonyms: one is "toil" and the other is "roil."

Jan Rehacek keeps a list of words (in several languages) that have either internal rhyme or internal alliteration-plus-consonance (that is, the two halves of the word differ only in their stressed vowel). For instance, the list includes:

criss-cross
dilly-dally
flimflam
fuddy-duddy
heebie-jeebies
helter-skelter
higgledy-piggledy
hobson-jobson
hugger-mugger
namby-pamby
pitter-patter
walkie-talkie
wishy-washy

It also includes some interesting items I've never encountered before, such as "huff-duff" (which is apparently "a device for determining the direction of radio signals") and words in Czech, French, Hungarian, Latin, Polish, and Spanish. I wrote a poem once using words like these; perhaps it's time for another using some of the new words.

Jay Scott's Daily Whale once used the terms "slip-slop" and "righty-tighty" (the latter being a mnemonic for the direction in which to turn a screw to tighten it).

And in Riddley Walker, on which I may write an entire column at some point, Russell Hoban uses the term "arga warga."

On other rhyming topics, Tom Lehrer, during an online interview with Rhino Records, was informed that George Carlin claimed there was no rhyme for "nostril." Another questioner suggested incorrectly that "wastrel" rhymed with "nostril." Lehrer responded thusly:

Anyone from here to Gloucester'll
Tell you there's no rhyme for 'nostril.'
(P.S.: No one but a mere imposter'll
Claim that 'wastrel' rhymes with 'nostril.').

In response to a request for a rhyme for "orange," Lehrer wrote:

Eating an orange
While making love
Makes for bizarre enj-
Oyment thereof.

(He added a note that different people pronounce "orange" differently, and thus that the above doesn't rhyme for everyone.)

A final note on rhyming: in "The Story of Pretty Goldilocks," in The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang, a giant approaches young Charming, singing a song about eating children. Charming sings this riposte, "to the same tune":

"Come out and meet the valiant Charming,
Who finds you not at all alarming;
Although he is not very tall,
He's big enough to make you fall."

At which point Lang interjects:

The rhymes were not very correct, but you see he had made them up so quickly that it is a miracle that they were not worse; especially as he was horribly frightened all the time.

I'm not used to the narrator/author of fairy tales editorializing on the quality of the characters' poetry. But then in the very next story, "The History of Whittington," this tidbit appears:

...Upon which he cried out with great earnestness, but not in the most poetical manner:

"Go, send him in, and tell him of his fame,
And call him Mr. Whittington by name."

It is not our business to animadvert upon these lines; we are not critics, but historians. It is sufficient for us that they are the words of Mr. Fitzwarren; and though it is beside our purpose, and perhaps not in our power to prove him a good poet, we shall soon convince the reader that he was a good man, which was a much better character...

In case any of you, like me, were unaware of the meaning of the word "animadvert," allow my dictionary to enlighten you. It helpfully explains that to animadvert is "to make an animadversion." Wasn't that helpful?

(An animadversion, it turns out, is a critical remark.)

Anyway, it is not my business to animadvert upon Mr. Lang's snide editorial comments, so I'll close here.


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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>