Words & Stuff

ggg: Rhyme Sightings

(28 March 1999)

Some time ago, Dominus pointed out to me that "singer," "finger," and "ginger" look like they should rhyme but have entirely different pronunciations. I was amused but didn't know what to do with that information until Jim sent me a forwarded version of the following poem.

That version was titled "English Is Tough Stuff" and included a false claim that the intent was to help multinational NATO personnel pronounce English. Actually, the poem was written by a Dutch writer named G. J. Nolst Trènitè (1870-1946), also known as "Charivarius." One version on the Web gives a tentative date of 1922; a German site states that it appeared in Trènitè's Drop Your Foreign Accent -- Engelse Uitspraakoefeningen (5th revised edition, H. D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1929). I'm going to take the chance that it was indeed first published in 1922 and is thus out of copyright.

The poem is mostly a list of English words which either look like they should rhyme but don't, or have very different spellings but rhyme anyway. The most interesting thing about it is the way that it's been changed by the folk process: punctuation, "and"s, and some spellings vary quite a bit among the versions on the Web, and there are a dozen couplets that are in some versions but not others. My guess is that an American read the poem and thought, "Some of these lines just don't make any sense!", not realizing that it uses British pronunciations.... Also, some pronunciations have changed since the poem was written, making some lines rather confusing. The following version is my best guess at what the original might have been, combining elements from multiple versions and massaging the result slightly for scansion. I've added explanatory notes to some lines.

The Chaos

by "Charivarius"

Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy, [American version has "Suzy"]
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear.
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Made has not the sound of bade, [preferred pronunciation is /b&d/, not /beId/]
Say -- said, pay -- paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague [plaque?] and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via:
Pipe, snipe, recipe and chair, [this must be wrong; I doubt "via" and "chair" rhyme in any accent....]
Cloven, oven; how and low,
Script, receipt; shoe, poem, toe,
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, reviles;
Wholly, holly, signal, signing;
Thames, examining, combining;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
From "desire": desirable -- admirable from "admire,"
Lumber, plumber, bier but brier:
Chatham, brougham; renown but known,
Knowledge done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone; Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind;
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather, [/'S& mi/]
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather, [I assume first two are /'ri dIN/ (participle of "to read") and /'rE dIN/]
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth and plinth,
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would,
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rhyme with "darky." [this was cut in some versions, presumably to avoid giving offense; I restored it for completeness even though in American the word is /'pAr keI/, not /'pAr ki/]
Viscous, viscount; load and broad;
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's O.K.
When you say correctly croquet; [modern American stresses second syllable of both rhyming words here, which throws scansion off]
Rounded, wounded; grieve and sieve;
Friend and fiend; alive and live.
Liberty, library; heave and heaven;
Rachel, ache, moustache; eleven.
We say hallowed but allowed,
People, leopard; towed but vowed.
Mark the difference moreover [I assume he pronounced "difference" with three syllables, both here and later]
Between mover, cover, and clover;
Leeches, breeches; wise, precise; [preferred pronunciation is /'brItS @z/, not /'britS @z/]
Chalice, but police and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable;
Principle, disciple; label,
Petal, penal, and canal;
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal. [secondary pronunciation /pl&t/, rather than the preferred /pleIt/.]
Suit, suite, run circuit, conduit, [secondary pronunciation /'kAn d(w)It/]
Rhyme with "Shirk it" and "beyond it."
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it's Pall Mall, pall mall. [preferred pronunciation of the latter is /pEl 'mEl/]
Muscle, muscular; gaol, iron; [British /'aI @n/, roughly]
Timber, climber, bullion, lion;
Worm and storm; chaise, chaos, chair;
Senator, spectator, mayor. [I assume this rhymes better in British than in American.]
Ivy, privy; famous, clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess.
Desert but dessert, address;
Golf, wolf; countenance; lieutenants [British /lEf 'tEn @nts/]
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb;
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul but foul and gaunt but aunt [/&nt/, obviously]
Font, front, wont; want, grand, and grant, ["font" and "wont" rhyme for me, but my dictionary distinguishes them as /fAnt/ and /wOnt/]
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge, and gauge; [/'rI (@)l/, I guess, but "real" and "zeal" rhyme for me]
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very, [it does for me, but /'kwI ri/ is preferred over my /'kwE ri/]
Nor does fury sound like bury. [you say /'bE ri/, I say /'b@ ri/; you say /'fju ri/, I say /'fj@ ri/]
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, job, blossom, bosom, oath [first two here are Biblical /dZob/ and working /dZAb/]
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual but victual. [some people incorrectly say /'vIk tSu @l/]
Seat, sweat, chaste and caste: Leigh, eight and height, [I've heard people say /keIst/, but it's /k&st/. And scansion is mangled here.]
Put, nut, granite but unite,
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull; Geoffrey, George ate late,
Hint, pint, senate and sedate;
Scenic, Arabic, pacific;
Science, conscience, scientific.
Tour, but our, succour, four, [British pronunciations to rhyme with next line]
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Sally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Never guess -- it is not safe;
We say calves, valves, half but Ralph! [British /reIf/]
Heron; granary, canary,
Crevice and device and aerie;
Face, but preface, but efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic; ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging.
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging
Ear, but earn, and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even;
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk; [British /clArk/]
Asp, grasp, wasp; and cork and work.
Pronunciation -- think of psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits? [Were these once pronounced the same?]
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale, [/'rA l@k/, /'g@n @l/]
Islington and Isle of Wight, [/'Iz lIN t@n/]
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Don't you think so, reader, rather, [rhymes with next line in British]
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rhymes with enough--
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is -- give it up!

The pronunciations I've given are mostly ASCII IPA transcriptions of the pronunciations from Webster's Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary.

Reader comments and addenda page

Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>