Words & Stuff

WW: Round and Round We Go

(6 December 1998)

I'm always amused by jokes and rhymes and poems that go in loops. For instance, when I was a kid, my father told me, "Pete and Re-Pete went out in a boat. Pete fell overboard. Who was left?" I answered, "Re-Pete," and he of course said, "Pete and Re-Pete went out in a boat..."

Along similar lines, and slightly reminiscent of "A my name is Alice," is this infinite jest:

My name is Yon Yonson
I live in Wisconsin
I work in a lumber mill there.
All the people I meet
when I walk down the street
say "Hello, what's your name?" and I say:
My name is Yon Yonson
I live in Wisconsin...

I don't know the source of that one; I always heard it as a folk rhyme. Carl Sandburg apparently recorded it on a Columbia album in the sixties.

There's a King Crimson song called "Indiscipline" (from the album Discipline; words by Adrian Belew) to which the most notable words are:

I repeat myself when under stress
I repeat myself when under stress
I repeat myself when under stress...

A friend and I programmed a computer in college to print out that sentence forever...

Jim Moskowitz provides this infinitely long double dactyl:

Higgledy-Piggledy
Douglas R. Hofstadter
Went to his editors
Asked for time off:

"I'll never finish this
Self-repetitiousness!
Higgledy-Piggledy
Douglas R. Hof

 -stadter
 Went to his editors
 Asked for time off...

Next time you're sitting around being bored, with a friend, try out one of these old comedy routines (perhaps originally from Vaudeville?). If you're really bored, you can keep them going forever.

Damian: That's life.
Evelyn: What's life?
Damian: A magazine.
Evelyn: What does it cost?
Damian: Ten cents. [like I said, an old routine]
Evelyn: That's too much.
Damian: That's life.
Evelyn: What's life?...

And on a similar note:

Evelyn: You remind me of a man.
Damian: What man?
Evelyn: A man with the power.
Damian: What power?
Evelyn: The power of hoodoo.
Damian: Hoodoo?
Evelyn: You do.
Damian: Do what?
Evelyn: Remind me of a man...

(Not that it's really relevant to the above, but I thought it worth mentioning that Hoodoo is an African-American form of folk magic, as well as apparently being another name for Voodoo (aka Vodun and other variations), a religious sytem started in Haiti whose name may come from a word meaning "spirit" in a West African language. Much more information about Hoodoo is available at catherine yronwode's Lucky Mojo site.)

The above reminds me obliquely of my favorite exchange in the Disney version of Snow White:

Snow White: How do you do?
Doc [suspiciously]: How do you do what?

It also reminds me, of course, of that greatest of burlesque routines, "Who's On First?" This routine was created by William Alexander "Bud" Abbott (1897-1974) and Louis Francis "Lou Costello" Cristillo (1906-1959), sometime in the 1930s, and was first broadcast on the Kate Smith Radio Hour. (Abbott & Costello continued to perform it, in various media, for another twenty years.) It doesn't repeat indefinitely, but it does have a lovely rhythm to it, with a particular exchange being repeated as a sort of refrain at the end of each section. Since the full script is available at the official Abbott & Costello site, along with a 3MB .wav-file recording (which may only contain half the routine), I'll deem it sufficient to provide a roster for the team discussed in the routine:

First base: Who
Second base: What
Third base: I Don't Know
Pitcher: Tomorrow
Catcher: Today
Left field: Why
Center field: Because
Shortstop: I Don't Give a Darn

As far as I know, they never named the right-fielder, though one unofficial Web page suggests he's named "OK."


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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>