June 11, 2013

"Stephen Sondheim, the man who rhymed 'the hands on the clock turn' with 'don’t sing a nocturne'..."

"... wrote... that 'using near-rhymes is like juggling clumsily.'"

From a rant against the modern trend of relying on near rhymes — like "calculus" with "miraculous" and "T-Shirts” with “bleachers.”

Via Metafilter, where one commenter links to the Twitter feed AngrySondheim.

I sort of like near rhymes, myself. Do I need to work on my anger issues?


ricpic said...

Calculus with miraculous ain't bad. T-shirts with bleachers is pretty bad.

Methadras said...

I still defy them to find a rhyme to purple and orange. Come on SONDHEIM!!!

Matthew Sablan said...

Slant rhymes is like a golf handicap.

ricpic said...

Purple people eaters wearing orange wife beaters...

sbb said...

I always kind of shivered in awe that a "Godspell" song rhymed "bushel" and "crucial":

You are the light of the world!
You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
Brrr, it's lost something kind of crucial

rehajm said...

Rhyme police, spelling police, grammar police, punctuation police...

Mitchell the Bat said...

It's important to bear in mind that Billy Mac is a detective down in Texas and he knows just exactly what the facts is.

He ain't gonna let those two escape justice.

He makes his living off of other people's taxes.

ricpic said...

Justice and taxes is pretty bad.

ricpic said...

But facts is and taxes is g-r-r-reat!

Balfegor said...

Near-rhymes are fine -- they'll all be near-rhymes in a century or two. I'm pretty sure "beastie" and "breastie" rhymed when Burns wrote his ode to a Mouse.

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering pattle

Maybe they still do, with a heavy Scottish accent.

YoungHegelian said...

My personal favorite mangled rhyme:

From the song "High Noon" (the theme song from the movie)

He made a vow while in state prison
Now it'll be my life or his'n

I just wince every time I hear that verse.

tim maguire said...

Approximate rhymes open up more opportunities for linguistic creativity just as playing tennis without a net opens up more opportunities for creative ball handling.

Mr. D said...

The best near rhyme I know:

Now if there's a smile on my face
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject

Smokey Robinson — America's greatest living poet, Mr. Dylan said.

viator said...

Mountain Greenery

Contra Sondheim. Ella Fitzgerald was wonderful, as usual, singing this one.

Strelnikov said...

He knows just what the facts is,
He makes his living off other peoples' taxes.

Just awful.

ad hoc said...

When I hear the term 'near rhymes', I immediately think of Emily Dickinson who used them often in her poetry.

FWBuff said...

Oh, but give Sondheim his obsessive due. He is the master of the true rhyme in ways you wouldn't believe.

From "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" --

"If a person's personality's not personable . . ./ It's harder than a matador coercin' a bull . .."

or from "America" --

"I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe, and put that in!"

rhhardin said...

"The Alarming Spread of Poetry" P.G.Wodehouse

When one's son came to one and said, "Father, I shall not be able to fulfill your dearest wish and start work in the fertilizer department. I have decided to become a poet," although one could no longer frighten him from his purpose by talking of garrets and starvation, there was still one weapon left. "What about the rhymes, Willie?"

William said...

I agree with viator. Lorenz Hart was, far and away, our wittiest lyricist. He would occasionally make a tortured rhyme but with a wink. The clumsiness was part of the joke.

Dr Weevil said...

No rhyme for 'purple'? Roger Miller begs to differ:

"Roses are red
and violets are purple,
sugar is sweet
and so is maple surple."

Pettifogger said...

Balfegor is right that changing pronunciation accounts for some near rhymes. For example, in the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill, "water" is rhymed with "after." It was probably always a near rhyme, but much less of one when "after" was pronounced "ahfter."

I write doggerel from time to time and try to avoid near rhyme. "Miraculous" and "calculus" are a reasonably good rhyme, because that last three syllables match and the accent is in the same syllable in each. The obvious problem is the difference in pronunciation of the "a" in the two words.

I will indulge in near rhyme in extremis as when I had to rhyme "chupacabra":

There once was an old chupacabra
Who traveled to see the Alambra
He enountered a goat
And slashed out its throat
The scene became quite macabre.

Not only are "chupacabra" and "Alhambra" not perfect rhymes, but "mah CAH brah" is not the preferred pronunciation of macabre. But these were the best I could do.

Publius the Clown said...

Isn't "clock turn" and "nocturne" an actual rhyme, not a near-rhyme?

Pettifogger said...

With "purple," I would cheat with "circle" or perhaps make reference to "a twerp 'll," continuing the thought on the next line.

Krumhorn said...

Can't beat Cole Porter for some of the most elegant and sophisticated rhymes in lyrics.

"So sweet to waken with/so nice to sit down to eggs and bacon with." - Easy To Love

"Though I'm not a great romancer, I know that I'm bound to answer." - Anything Goes

Can't ignore Begin The Beguine.

I'm sure that this would dazzle Sondheim if he had written it instead of Arthur Hamilton:

"You told me love was too plebeian
Told me you were through with me and

Now you say you love me
Well, just to prove that you do
Come on and cry me a river
Cry me a river
I cried a river over you"

- Krumhorn

Jeff Gee said...

Some guy did a sort of homage to Stonehenge using car bodies and called it 'Carhenge.' I believe this rhymes with orange.

deborah said...

"Rhyme police, spelling police, grammar police, punctuation police..."

Agreed. Slanted rhyme can be more clever than straight rhyme.

Henry said...

Everyone knows that alliteration is where it's at.

Henry said...

Yeats rhymed "stones" and "swans"

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

First stanza of The Wild Swans at Coole

Krumhorn said...

By the way, Julie London absolutely owned that song. Hear her with that amazing Barney Kessell guitar accompaniment.


And Diana Krall can do no wrong either.



Henry said...

In Robert Pinksy's introduction to his translation of Dante's Inferno he offers a very interesting discussion of rhyme (including referencing the Yeats example, above). He describes a systematic approach to rhythmic effect that is far more thoughtful than adherence to a rhyming dictionary:

the translation is based on a fairly systematic rhyming norm that defines rhyme as the same consonant-sounds -- however much vowels may differ -- at the ends of words. For example, the opening tercets of Canto I include the triads "tell/feel/well," "sleep/stop/up," and "night/thought/it."


...consonantal or "Yeatsian" rhyme can supply an audible scaffold of English
terza rima, a scaffold that does not distort the English sentence, or draw excessively on the reaches of the English lexicon. In this scaffolding, mere vowel rhymes -- even as close as "claim/feign" or "state/raid" -- have been arbitrarily excluded, as taking away some of the backbone or stringency of effect."

creeley23 said...

A sly pleasure in Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is the AABCCB rhyme scheme in which the B always rhymes "do you/to you" variants with "Hallelujah."

I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

As Cohen sings it, it's always the colloquial pronunciation: "do ya," "to ya" etc. which hits the ear funny in such an otherwise solemn song, so in performance it's a full rhyme.

edutcher said...

Agree with Krumhorn on Cole Porter.

Not too many people, however have that talent.

I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all

In honor of our Blazing Saddles POTUS, "Sir, he specifically requested two 'niggers'. Well, to tell a family secret, my grandmother was Dutch".

traditionalguy said...

Wouldn't it be loverly...Someone's ead restin on my knee. Warm and tender as e can be, 'ho takes care of me.

(Rhymes sung by Holly Golightly in a prior role.)

traditionalguy said...

Wouldn't it be loverly...Someone's ead restin on my knee. Warm and tender as e can be, 'ho takes care of me.

(Rhymes sung by Holly Golightly in a prior role.)

Beta Rube said...

He made a home in
That fishes abdomen

"It Ain't Necessarily So", Ira Gershwin, one of the all time greats.

Rumpletweezer said...

Dora the Explora.

DanTheMan said...

>>He makes his living off of the peoples' taxes.

Can I just interrupt this thread to remind people that police detectives pay taxes, too? Even in Texas.

creeley23 said...

And from the immortal Burt Bachrach:

What do you get when you kiss a guy
You get enough germs to catch pneumonia
After you do, he'll never phone ya
I'll never fall in love again

FWBuff said...


Then there's also this great true rhyme from another "My Fair Lady" song:

"'I know each language on the map,' said he,
'And she's Hungarian as the Hungarian Rhapsody!'"

Titus said...

Sondheim is a homosexual.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

From the Master, Yip Harburg:

I'd unravel any riddle
For any individ'le
In trouble or in pain

. . .

I would not be just a nuffin'
My head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain
I would dance and be merry
Life would be a ding-a-derry
If I only had a brain

Yeah, it's sad, believe me Missy
When you're born to be a sissy
Without the vim and verve
But I could show my prowess
Be a lion, not a mowess
If I only had the nerve

I'm just a dandylion
A fate I don't deserve
I'd be brave as a blizzard

(Tin Man)
I'd be gentle as a lizard

I'd be clever as a gizzard

If the Wizard is a wizard who will serve

Then I'm sure to get a brain

(Tin Man)
A heart

A home

(Cowardly Lion)
The nerve

Crunchy Frog said...

At least those are better than the hymns that pretend that "move" rhymes with "love".

It's really hard to maintain a spirit of reverence when you're pissed off about what you're singing...

Blue@9 said...

Modern trend?

I'd like to bitchslap Sondheim on behalf of Eliot and Yeats.

Mrs. X said...

The man who gave us:

It's fop
finest in the shop
and we have some shepherd's pie peppered
with actual shepherd on top.
And I've just begun -
Here's a politician so oily,
it's served a doily, have one.
Put it on a bun.
Well, you never know if it's going to run.

...has earned the right to criticize as he chooses. (But I'm wildly biased in Mr. S's favor...)