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Andrew Gelman is justifiably impressed by Laura Wattenberg's ruminations on rhyme (warning: the second link triggers one of those insufferable ads that starts playing loud sounds as soon as the page comes up, so mute your audio before clicking).  Ms. Wattenberg without the musical background:

Here's a little pet peeve of mine: nothing rhymes with orange. You've heard that before, right? Orange is famous for its rhymelessness. There's even a comic strip called "Rhymes with Orange." Fine then, let me ask you something. What the heck rhymes with purple?

If you stop and think about it, you'll find that English is jam-packed with rhymeless common words. What rhymes with empty, or olive, or silver, or circle? You can even find plenty of one-syllable words like wolf, bulb, and beige. Yet orange somehow became notorious for its rhymelessness, with the curious result that people now assume its status is unique.

Andrew wrote to ask about this, and so I did a bit of looking around for information about the statistics of rhyme.

To my surprise, I was not able to find any work on the distribution of sizes of rhyme equivalence classes in English. As I wrote to Andrew, there's been a lot of interest on the part of psycholinguists in various local density measures on lexical neighborhoods — how many words are near a given word (in terms of some sort of edit distance) in spelling or sound — because such measures play an important role in theories of speech perception, reading, speech errors, language learning, and so on.

Choosing somewhat at random among recent publications, there's a  historical survey in Davis et al.,  "Re(de)fining the orthographic neighborhood: The role of addition and deletion neighbors in lexical decision and reading", Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 2009, and a useful discussion in Magnuson et al., "The dynamics of lexical competition during spoken word recognition", Cognitive Science 31(1) 2007.

Those references will give you the flavor of this work, which now amounts to thousands if not tens of thousands of articles. (Google Scholar claims 393,000 hits for lexical neighborhood, but perhaps this is as unreliable as other Google hit counts are these days.)

As far as I know, none of these innumerable articles has looked at the distribution of "rhymes" in the poetic sense, and in particular at the distribution of number of rhymes overall, or conditioned on various source-word properties (frequency, length in segments or in syllables, semantic field, etc.).

I found a few hints of such work in the computational linguistics literature, for example Roy Bird and Martin Chodorow, "Using an On-line Dictionary to find rhyming words and pronunciations for unknown words", Proceedings of the 23rd annual meeting on Association for Computational Linguistics, 1985.  In that paper, Roy and Martin treat us to the apotheosis of plain-text GUIs:

But there's no information about the distribution of rhyme-set sizes in their dictionary.

So I decided give it a shot myself, naively thinking that it would be easy.

Of course I understood that the easy answer would be meaningless. That is, you could get a large number of different answers depending on how you define "rhyme", how big your wordlist is, whose pronunciations you use, and so on.

It's like asking "how many English words are there?". In fact, an exact word-list (and thus word-count) is presupposed by questions like "how many rhymeless English words are there?", "how many English words have exactly one (or two, or seventeen) rhymes?", etc.

But, I naively thought, getting versions of these numbers is easy to do, given a choice of dictionary and a definition of "rhyme". And I told Andrew that as classes come to an end, I might have a bit of extra hacking time to try it.

And indeed the basic hacking is pretty straightfoward.

I started with the CELEX2 epw ("English phonology, wordforms") table, which has 160,595 entries. I eliminated entries with internal white space or hyphens, leaving 119,277.  There are a fair number of alternative pronunciations, so that after a couple of lines of scripting I was left with 187,576 word/pronunciation pairs. Using a definition of "rhyme" as "identical in pronunciation from the main-stressed vowel to the end", a few more lines of scripting revealed 50,344 rhyme equivalence classes (i.e. sets of rhyming words), of which 30,905 (61% of rhyme sets, 16% of words+pronunciations) are singletons.  The rest of the histogram of rhyme-set sizes starts like this:

Number of Rhyme Sets Number of Words in Set
30,905 1
7,120 2
2,458 3
2,277 4
2,857 5
733 6
437 7
467 8
259 9
525 10

The largest equivalence-class by far is the -ation set, with 1,978 members.

If we believed this table, it would certainly convince us that singletons dominate the English rhyme scene.

And that qualitative conclusion is quite likely to stand up. But a bit of inspection establishes that these specific numbers should not be trusted very far, especially the counts of sets with small numbers of members.

Here are some of the issues:

1. What is a "rhyme"?
2. What wordforms should be in the list? (rare words, compounds, productive derivation…)
3. How should we treat words with alternative pronunciations?
4. CELEX2 has got a fair number of mistakes (or at least inconsistencies) in its pronunciation fields.

Let's consider (or at least exemplify) these one at a time.

What is a "rhyme"? If you ask the Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes about orange, it gives you

• Falange , flange • avenge , henge, revenge, Stonehenge • arrange , change, counterchange, estrange, exchange, grange, interchange, Lagrange, mange, part-exchange, range, short-change, strange • binge , cringe, fringe, hinge, impinge, singe, springe, …

These count under some definitions, but not the one I'm using.

What wordforms should be in the list? Among my 30,905 singletons are monkish and feasting. CELEX2 doesn't include skunkish and bee sting (and my script would have removed bee sting anyhow).

How should we count words with alternative pronunciations? Patron has two pronunciations, one with /eɪ/ and one with /æ/, while matron has only one, with /eɪ/.  In the way that I created my rhyme sets, patron is a member of two of them: one singleton (CELEX2 has no other wordforms that rhyme with patron-with-an-/æ/) and one pair (since patron-with-an-/eɪ/ is a member of patron, matron).  Should the singleton version be counted, or not?

And here's an example of the interaction of alternative pronunciations with errors or inconsistencies in CELEX2.  The two wordforms gobblers and wobblers are given (mistaken?) alternative pronunciations with a syllabic /l/, perhaps due to being derived from gobble and wobble. Or maybe they (the original dictionary authors, I guess) are referencing an alternative pronunciation where gobbler has three syllablers, gob-ble-er? In any case, cobblers lacks this alternative.  So we end up with one triple (cobblers, gobblers, wobblers) and one pair (gobblers, wobblers).

So for these and various other reasons, I don't think that my specific numbers should be trusted very far. However, some checking of random samples convinces me that any similar exercise, carried out on any similar sort of dictionary, will also reach the conclusion that overall, orange is indeed the norm: singleton rhyme-sets are more common than any other size.

The situation is (unsurprisingly) different for monosyllables. Among the 26,841 monosyllabic spelling/pronunciation pairs, I found 1,078 rhyme equivalence classes, of which 160 (15% of rhyme sets, 0.6% of words) are singletons. (Even among monosyllables, however, there are more singletons than any other set size — 63 pairs, 39 triples, 24 4-tuples, etc.)

Somewhat to my surprise, the initial-stressed two-syllable words showed about the same pattern as the vocabulary at large, with perhaps even a higher proportion of singletons: Among the 42,663 initial-stressed disyllabic word/pronunciation pairs, there were 17,212 rhyme equivalence classes, of which 11,042 (64% of rhyme sets, 26% of words) were singletons.

Thanks to available data and powerful text-analysis software, all of this was easy — it took quite a bit longer to explain than it did to do. What would really be hard would be doing it so that the results could be trusted — that would require exploring the consequences of all the alternative choices that I've ignored. And the main thing that I've learned from what I've done so far is how large and complex that space of choices really is.


  1. fs said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 10:23 am

    Very interesting stuff, myl. Just thought I might mention that they have some sort of rhyme cataloging project over at wiktionary. Here's a list of extant equivalence classes.

  2. Carl M said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 10:28 am

    It has always struck me that the two-word phrase "door-hinge" is a suitable rhyme for orange. Many poems (and limericks) use rhyming phrases, if you're feeling REALLY ambitious, why not explore all possible such rhymes. :-)

  3. Chris said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    Not surprisingly, there's a Wikipedia page called, wait for it, List of English words without rhymes. I found this by Googling "how many words rhyme with each other?" That page's authors/editors chose to use what they call "perfect rhyme" and define it this way: "a perfect rhyme demands the exact match of all sounds from the last stressed vowel to the end of the word. Therefore, words with the stress far from the end are more likely to have no perfect rhymes." Their list is understandably incomplete.

    Also, I'm a tad surprised that edit distance is used to define lexical neighborhoods if only because it has always struck me as a clunky and clearly unnatural technique (in the sense that I don't think the human language system is using something akin to it). Then again, I have no good substitute, haha. I wonder if anyone has done some norming for rhymes? Should be easy enough to run a couple hundred undergrads through some lists to see what they perceive to be rhyme equivalence classes.

  4. Morten Jonsson said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    Where there's a will there's a way:

    In Dodge City
    Don't get too witty
    Dress in purple
    Or drink sloe gin
    'Cause Wyatt Earp'll
    Run you in.

  5. Mark P said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    Carl M just reminded me that there are at least two pronunciations of orange. My pronunciation would not rhyme with door hinge.

    I'm surprised that there isn't more work on rhyming, given its importance in poetry.

  6. Nathan said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    @Carl M: For me, the second vowel of orange is a schwa, while the vowel of hinge, even in door-hinge, is [ɪ]. They're close, but they don't rhyme to me.

    [(myl) There's also the /h/, unless you speak an h-less variety of English. "Door-hinge" is short of being an exact rhyme for orange by one substitution, one insertion, and a stress-change.]

  7. Mark Beadles said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:17 am

    This lack of rarity of rhymeless words in modern English is also connected with the history of poetic rhyme in the Germanic languages. Old English, for example, largely used alliterative ("front-rhyme") verse, not modern end-rhymes. Alliterative poetry disappeared by around the 1500's, though, leaving end-rhyming as the modern conception of poetic rhyme in English.

  8. Ben said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:21 am

    The reason orange and door hinge is a stretch isn't just the schwa–remember Wikipedia's definition of a perfect rhyme: the exact match of all sounds from the last stressed vowel to the end of the word. The last stressed vowel in this instance is the /o/. But in door hinge there's an /h/ sound after the /r/, so they're not posttonically identical.

    Wikipedia's definition leaves out a detail, I think: for a truly perfect rhyme, the consonants preceding the stressed vowel must be different in the words in question; thus, defend and offend don't rhyme (perfectly), at least not in my book.

  9. Ellen said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:25 am

    Carl M, that depends on how one pronounces "door-hinge" and "orange". I would pronounce "door-hinge" as two distince words, both stressed. Which makes it not a rhyme for any pronunciation of "orange". I also pronounce "orange" as a single sylable. (Curiously, only one of the online dictionaries I checked gives that option.) And I don't imagine "door-hinge" would be pronounced by anyone as a single syllable. (And then there's the two different ways to pronounce the o in orange".)

    So, 4 ways to pronounce orange, one of which may rhyme with "door-hinge", but only if the 2nd syllable of door-hinge is unstressed.

  10. Albert Gorringe said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:34 am

    "Orange" doesn't have a schwa in it, you ridiculous Americans.

    And as for the idea that "defend" and "offend" don't rhyme…

  11. Lazar said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    @Ben: I agree – it bugs me a little when I see identical syllables being used for rhyming.

    Which reminds me, what is up with sight rhymes, and why did they seem to be more popular in older poetry and songs than they are today? And why do I feel so cheated and dissatisfied when I come across one?

  12. Ellen said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    Maybe I should have refreshed before posting. :)

  13. John Lawler said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    In a paper on the semantic coherence of 'rimes' (a technical term more or less identical with 'rhymes'), I collected a list of 400-some rimes that occur in English monosyllables or 1½-syllable words like "orange" or "butter". I was only interested in rimes with more than 20 instances, but the rest of the rimes are listed, in modified Trager-Smith notation, with counts, at http://www.umich.edu/~jlawler/restofrimes.pdf. It turns out that there are a lot of rimes with very few instances.

  14. Eric Baković said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:50 am

    Ed Keer and I have a long-standing argument about the pronunciation of orange (and the consequences for rhyming). Relevant background is available here. The central point of contention is a knock-knock joke: Ed's pronunciation loosely rhymes with "aren't", so he feels he's able to tell the knock-knock joke successfully.

  15. Ken Brown said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:51 am

    Carl M said: "… that the two-word phrase "door-hinge" is a suitable rhyme for orange."

    What sort of accent do you use?

    For me (urban SE English) "door-hinge" doesn't come anywhere near rhyming with "orange". Or at least no nearer than "binge" or "whinge" and further away than "cringe" or "syringe". For me "door" has no phoneme in common with "orange" at all.

    Orange is perhaps something like /'ɒɹəndʒ/ door-hinge maybe /'dɔ: hɪndʒ/ And if I deliberately emphasised it, door might just about come in two syllables – /'dɔ:wɜ/ – though that might be getting near stage-Cockney.

    Which is I guess one reason why counting rhymes is hard.

  16. Sarang said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    1. FWIW "priesting" rhymes with "feasting." (OED attests priest as verb)

    [(myl) Yes, as I noted, a lot depends on what words (and derived words, and word sequences) you allow into the list.]

    2. Does your script have (e.g.) "characters" rhyming with "hers"? If so — and this is the norm for iambic verse — it seems to me that there ought to be a biggish systematic difference between masculine and feminine endings.

    [(myl) No, I followed the simple-minded principle that an exact rhyme requires a match from the vowel of the main-stressed syllable to the end of the word, and characters has initial main stress.]

    3. One would naively expect long words — esp. with masculine endings — to typically have rhymes as most of them end in generic suffixes and can, at a pinch, be rhymed with other words with similar suffixes. (e.g. disestablishmentarian may or may not rhyme with vegetarian depending on your definitions, but will in any case rhyme with millenarian).

    [(myl) Unless I misunderstand your definition of "rhyme", or you have unexpected stress patterns, disestablishmentarian rhymes with both vegetarian and with millenarian, as well as with 57 other words in the list I started with.]

  17. John Lawler said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    Just started rereading my paper and discovered that I'd done this before. At the bottom of page 2 I found "…there are more than 80 rimes that occur only once in the database, and more than 40 that occur only twice."

  18. Ken Brown said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    Badly cross-posted there… I spent about half an hour happily trying to work out how I say the words and by the time I'd done it everyone else had said what I was going to say.

    But, in the meantime: Mark Beadles said: "Alliterative poetry disappeared by around the 1500's, though"

    Well, formal alliterative poetry may have (& mostly earlier than that) but alliteration as a technique in poetry certainly didn't, its been used all the way through – sometimes perhaps in deliberate echo of older styles, for example Milton's:

    Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
    Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
    Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
    When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones.

    But also sometimes for humour, or dramatic effect (Alfred Noye's Highwayman or Browning's How they brought the good news from Aix to Ghent and The Lost Leader). Alliteration is also a (productive) feature of tongue-twisters, riddles, children's stories, football chants and so on. Something English-speakers do for themselves without having to be taught about it in school.

  19. Gregory Marton said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    Using the cmu pronunciation dictionary, which provides vowel stress info, it's not too hard to come up with rhymes.

    [(myl) One trouble with the CMU dictionary is that its transcription practices are not at all consistent, as you'd expect for a resource put together by many people, from many sources, over a period of time. That's irrelevant for many purposes, but the inconsistencies are going to make it challenging as a source for this kind of investigation. (CELEX is by no means free of such inconsistencies, but they're an order of magnitude worse in cmudict.)]

    I haven't done out the equivalence classes, and it seems more challenging than one would think at first blush.

    To give you the character of the kinds of rhymes you can get, orange rhymes with "collinge", "syringe" (one of two pronunciations available with stress on the first syllable), "lozenge", "challenge", "alonge", "counterchallenge", and "scavenge". To my ear, these are pretty good.

    [(myl) What definition of "rhyme" are you using? None of these are rhymes if (as usual in such discussions) the requirement is to match everything from the stressed vowel to the end of the word, rather than just to match from the final vowel onward. In poetic practice, there are lots of laxer sorts of rhyming (slant rhymes, eye rhymes, para-rhymes, etc.), but the whole "rhymes with orange" discussion presupposes a stricter definition, or there's nothing much to talk about.]

    Purple has 0 rhymes, but 160 near-rhymes by the same algorithm, including "carpal", "cripple", and "ripple".

    If one reads rhyming poetry, one notices that rhymes are often formed with near-matches especially among consonants for place or manner of articulation, so /b/ is a better substitute for /p/ than /n/ is. That "ripple" sounds better to me than "snapple" also says that sounds can move around a bit (the "r") and they still count somehow. That gives us a weighted phonetic edit distance rather than equivalence, our of which to make "equivalence" classes. Add to that the "Earp'll" variety of combining words and allowing names, and equivalence classes get even harder to define.

    So have any of you whipped up an hmm-lda strict-form rhyming poem-of-the-day generator using each day's public tweets yet? :-)

  20. Tommy Herbert said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    @Lazar: What often happens with old poems and songs is that they start off rhyming, but then pronunciation changes. Spelling, which doesn't change as quickly, gives you a clue as to what has happened.

    @Mark Liberman: I'd like to know how many possible monosyllables there are, and how many of them are words. Can CELEX2 give an answer to that?

    [(myl) Answers are easy — it's true answers that are hard. And neither of your questions can be answered crisply and also correctly, alas.

    The fuzzy edges of English phonotactics (and the variable splits and mergers among English varieties) mean that the notion "possible English monosyllable" is a set whose boundaries are uncertain and whose size within given boundaries can be counted in different ways. And the notion "actual word of English" is also a fuzzy one: how many archaic words, technical terms, proper names and nicknames, abbreviations, imitative noises, etc., are you going to count?

    What I recall from investigations years ago is that approximate answers to your questions are "about 15,000" and "most of them". But you could get quite a range of different answers to both questions. I'll see if I can dredge up a more specific discussion, or create a new one if I fail to find something suitable.]

  21. John said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    I'm surprised no one has been juvenile enough to mention "nurple."

  22. Tim Silverman said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

    My pronunciation of "door-hinge" and "orange" are /ˈdɒːˈhɪndʒ/ and /ˈɔɹ ɪndʒ/ respectively, not very similar! The first vowels differ in both quality and length, "door-hinge" has an /h/ but no /ɹ/ (I have a non-rhotic accent), and the second vowel is stressed in "door-hinge" but not "orange" (though at least I have the same vowel).

    So not a good rhyme for me, I'm afraid.

  23. Ray Girvan said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

    "Porringe" – coined by back-formation from "porringer"…

    And in reality, Forange.

  24. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    Vimto drink is coloured purple.
    Silly folk who want to burp'll
    Have a bottle.

  25. Sarang said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    I would think of disestablishmentarian-vegetarian as a borderline identity-rhyme (borderline because -nt- and -t- are arguably different consonants), like "lot" and "allot," or "frayed" and "afraid," which don't count as rhymes under most definitions.

    [(myl) Do derivational suffixes are counted as "identity rhymes"? I wouldn't have thought so — both rhyming dictionaries and poets seem to be fine with things like generation/propagation.]

  26. Charles Wells said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

    @Lazar: One possible cause of sight rhymes in old texts is that when they were written they rhymed. This may occur in Isaac Watts' hymns. For example he commonly rhymes "word" with "Lord" and "move" with "love". Who's to say whether he pronounced them so that the rhymed?

    Watts' words are used by many of the songs in the Sacred Harp, and Sacred Harp singers in the south sometimes use old pronunciations that make them rhyme. Their singing is in a continuous tradition (in the USA) from the late eighteenth century, although I am not claiming that these pronunciations survived from then. One pronunciation I have heard is a long "i" in the last syllable of "victory". Another, not affecting rhymes, is "the" with a short "e" — the "e" in "bet", which is not allowed in an open syllable in modern English. I think that is fascinating, but I don't know how you can prove anything about it after all this time.

  27. Written after a visit to Language Log « The Coming of the Toads said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

    […] our daily dose of Language Log. Language has undone so many. This morning there's a post on the mateless orange, for she can't be rhymed, yet she's not […]

  28. Richard M Buck said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

    @Tommy Herbert, re @Lazar:

    You also get the development of established poetic conventions whereby two words are accepted as a rhyme because of the prestige of authors from other periods or dialect areas. I have always been led to believe — although a quick attempt to find support for this online has turned up no evidence whatsoever! — that für and vier count as a rhyme (rather than just a near-rhyme) in German poetry mainly because they did rhyme for Goethe. If it's good enough for Goethe, then it's good enough for everyone else…

  29. Craig Russell said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    This is all very strange, because a good friend of mine and I had an argument last week about whether 'orange' and 'door-hinge' rhyme, and in the course of this argument I realized how radically our pronunciations of 'orange' differ. I was raised in North Carolina, and my native instinct is to say "ah-runj" (sorry, no IPA). As a teenager my family moved to Oregon, and certain aspects of my accent have drifted to match their standard (for example, in NC we say Oregon "ah-ruh-gun", but in Oregon they say "oh-ruh-gun" or "or-gun", and you generally can't get away with living in a state and not pronouncing that state's name in the native way).

    So I mostly say 'ah-runj' and occasionally say 'oh-runj', and the second is close enough to 'door-hinge' that I would count it as a rhyme. But my friend has spent most of his life in the midwest, and, like many of the posters above, he has a one-syllable 'ornj' pronunciation that doesn't come close to 'door-hinge'. Anyway, I've been noticing people's pronunciations of 'orange' and a number of other words for the past week, so it's very interesting for me that this entry would happen to come up.

  30. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

    Yes, it is ironic that among all the rhymeless words, "orange" happened to be singled out for this distinction, since there notoriously are two different pronunciations of the stressed vowel. However, it seems maybe both pronunciations are rhymeless?

    Also amusing that "singleton" is probably one of the many singleton words.

  31. Jonathan Lundell said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

    There's always the immortal:

    Roses are red,
    violets are purple,
    sugar is sweet,
    and so's maple syrple.

    Lou Harrison has a CD, Rhymes With Silver (it's his middle name).

  32. mollymooly said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

    From memory, Gimson's "Pronunciation of English" has a table of syllables somewhere near the back, which notes a few as marginal or singletons. Perhaps that would be of assistance to rime researchers.


    I would think of disestablishmentarian-vegetarian as a borderline identity-rhyme (borderline because -nt- and -t- are arguably different consonants)

    The point is well-made, although in the specific example, you could syllabify these dis.e.stab.lish.ment.ar.i.an and veg.e.tar.i.an, so the onsets of the stressed syllables would be indubitably different : null versus /t/. Any syllabification system is to some extent arbitrary; some theoretical considerations are incompatible and a choice must be made to favour one over another. When considering the perfection of a putative rhyme, is consideration of the stressed onset sufficient, or should we also consider the coda of the preceding syllable? Or worry about ambisyllabic segments?

  33. Bill Walderman said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

    I've always thought (and I offer this thought tentatively, without any having systematically investigated the matter) that what seems like the relative paucity of rhymes in English, in contrast to languages like French, Italian and above all Russian, and maybe even German, too, is at least in part related to the absence in English of an extensive morphology with a large array of patterned word endings. It's the other side of the coin to the feature of English that allows us to verb nouns and noun verbs so easily.

    And the paucity of rhymes in English encouraged poets to turn to unrhymed blank verse much earlier than in other languages. If I'm not mistaken, blank verse emerged in English in the Elizabethan era, whereas in German and Russian, I think, it only emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries under the influence of Shakespeare. In French, which has a very different type of stress than English, German and Russian, blank verse never really developed–in the 19th century, poets seeking to escape the tyrrany of conventional forms began to write prose poems, but I don't think unrhymned Alexandrines (12-syllable masculine or 13-syllable feminine verse) ever caught on in a big way. French poets, like poets in other languages, eventually began writing free verse, with neither rhyme nor any metrical or syllabic pattern, but that's a different story. Correct me if I'm wrong about this.

    Also, I strongly disagree that near rhymes and eye rhymes are unsatisfying. (What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?)

  34. fiddler said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

    A couple of questions come to mind (and I just realized, myl, that they're not on the topic of rhyme statistics — I hope this is OK):

    Is there any reason for rhyming other than poetry? That's a serious question. Do we use rhyming in any other "job"?

    [(myl) The implication of the literature on lexical neighborhoods is that we all "use" rhyming (along with lots of other sorts of sound-system relationships) in everyday speaking, listening, reading, and writing.]

    If poetry is the only use for rhyme, what do poets think about all these rules for what is a rhyme and what isn't? Is there a database of rhyming words written by poets?

    [(myl) These days, only a tiny fraction of poets use rhyme (well, unless you count songwriters, which I guess you should). I don't know of any database of who used which rhymes when and where, but it would be a nice thing if someone made one.]

  35. mollymooly said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    @Eric Baković:

    The central point of contention is a knock-knock joke: Ed's pronunciation loosely rhymes with "aren't", so he feels he's able to tell the knock-knock joke successfully.

    I remember the joke from my childhood in a place where orange and aren't sound very unlike. The groan-factor of puns is enhanced when the sound correspondences are relaxed. Just don't try to rhyme oranges and apples.

  36. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

    A naive question, if I may ? Why does "Gorringe" (as in jodhpurs) not rhyme with "orange" ? Is it because the rhyme is too perfect, and if so, could someone formulate a non-word that could be used to illustrate how a genuine orange-rhyme might be spelled and/or pronounced ?

  37. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    Samuel Hoffenstein, a Russian immigrant who became a newspaper columnist and poet and for a time a Hollywood scriptwriter, wrote:

    So, partly serious, more in jes'
    I try to find rhymes for oranges.

    I found this in an article about Ogden Nash in the Winter 2009 issue of Slightly Foxed, where it's quoted from Hoffenstein's Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing (1928).

    PS Why can everyone else but me do italics in LL posts? I typed this in Word and used italics, but they became roman when I put it into the "Leave a Comment" box.

  38. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

    Rhyme is found in other kinds of writing besides poetry. Many a proverbial saying and advertising slogan and public exhortation uses rhyme.

    There are rhyming dictionaries galore. I dare say they can be found on the Web as well as in bookshops (new and secondhand).

    Bear in mind that the pronunciation of English has changed over the years, so that what were pure rhymes when the poets wrote them have become half-rhymes or even non-rhymes in modern English. Cowley, for example, like many other seventeenth-century poets, rhymes "lies" with "joys" in his "Epitaph on the Living Author":

    Here, stranger, in this humble nest,
    Here, Cowley sleeps; here lies,
    Scap'd all the toils, that life molest,
    And its superfluous joys.

    I just don't know if"lies" and "joys" was a half-rhyme or a full rhyme in Cowley's time. I suspect that in his speech (as in my son's) it was a full rhyme: loys and joys

  39. vanya said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

    that für and vier count as a rhyme (rather than just a near-rhyme) in German poetry mainly because they did rhyme for Goethe.

    Rhyming ü and ie seems to be a well established convention in German poetry, including children's verse. I think it predates Goethe by a significant margin. My guess would be that German poets are brainwashed at a very young age to accept this as a normal rhyme from the many instances you can find in songs and nursery rhymes. As a foreigner, I've always found this rhyme very offputting and forced for some reason. I assume Germans don't feel that way.

  40. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    "Gorringe" does rhyme with "orange". I expect no one mentioned it because we'd never heard of Gorringe jodhpurs.

  41. Sili said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    the requirement is to match everything from the stressed vowel to the end of the word, rather than just to match from the final vowel onward.

    Thanks. I hit upon "lozenge" a coupla years ago, and didn't understand why it wasn't a rhyme.

    Of course, I'm not good at rhyming. My mind sticks on one word and refuses to move on – so I'm not one for making impromptu limericks, unfortunately.

    You need to use html tags: <i>italics</i> (or alternatively <em>emphasis<em>, but it turns out that those don't nest automatically anyway, so it doesn't much matter). Whatever you do, don't use random anglebrackets < and > – they'll be interpreted as coding. But very few people seem to feel the need to say "I <3 Mark Liberman" for some reason, so that's not a big problem.

  42. Army1987 said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    Lawler, how comes one instance of "awndz" when I was able to think of "sounds" and "rounds" in less than a minute?

  43. Army1987 said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

    As for outdated rhymes, I would have the same doubt if I had to read "The Tyger" by Blake. Do I pronounce "symmetry" /sɪmətri/ and break the rhyme, or do I pronounce it /sɪmətraɪ/ and sound ridiculous?

  44. Jongseong Park said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    I will defend the knock-knock joke that sets up 'Aren't' with 'Orange'. The full response begins, 'Aren't you'. Strictly speaking, this isn't a case of rhyme, which is normally understood to match the final sounds. The initial sounds are being matched here. And I submit that in certain American pronunciations, this is a pretty good match.

    This works with those who pronounce 'orange' as [ˈɑɹəndʒ], mostly in parts of the East Coast like New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and the Carolinas. I myself first learned English in New Jersey, and although my vowels have migrated closer to Transatlantic values (I would just as readily say [ˈɒɹəndʒ] nowadays), [ˈɑɹəndʒ] still sounds more natural to me than the other frequent American pronunciation, [ˈoɹəndʒ] (I know it's more usual to write [ˈɔːɹəndʒ], but this is what I hear).

    'Aren't you' is of course pronounced [ˈɑɹnt juː] when carefully enunciated, but in normal speech the [j] readily coalesces with the preceding [t] to give [ˈɑɹntʃ uː] or [ˈɑɹntʃ ə]. From there, syllabification of the [n] or a schwa insertion, or a compression of [ˈɑɹəndʒ] into a monosyllabic [ˈɑɹndʒ], or a bit of both, brings the initial sounds together, while a somewhat lazy pronunciation will blur the distinction between the [tʃ] and the [dʒ] in the pair.

    The lameness of the pun aside, it works if you speak the right variety of American English; I don't know any other variety of English for which this works.

  45. Steve R said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 4:00 pm


  46. Tom Recht said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

    The OED actually lists two words that rhyme with 'purple', as discussed in this QI clip:


  47. Brian said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 4:38 pm


    Is there any reason for rhyming other than poetry? That's a serious question. Do we use rhyming in any other "job"?

    Not sure if this counts as a job, but hang out with children in the middle of language/vocabulary acquisition. Rhyming serves as a significant fraction of their wordplay.


    Four engineers
    In orange brassieres.

  48. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    To follow up on Jongseong Park's comments, I have also noticed that some North Americans, when speaking carefully, pronounce "aren't" as [ˈɑɹənt], although I myself pronounce it as [ˈɑɹnt].

  49. Purple Nurple said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

    Orange, shmorange.

  50. dwmacg said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

    An aside, and then a serious question:

    The aside: Arlo Guthrie managed to rhyme "motorcycle" with "pickle," "tickle," and "die," all in the same song.

    Serious question:

    In quite a few Dr. Seuss books, "get" is rhymed with "let," "wet," "bet," etc. I've always found that disconcerting, as in my dialect at least "get" is generally pronounced /gɪt/ while the others are pronounced, e.g., /lɛt/. I assume that Dr. Seuss's dialect was similar to mine (he was from Western MA; I grew up in the east of the state but with a fairly general American English dialect). So my question is: did Dr. Seuss really speak a dialect in which "get" rhymes with those other words? Was "get" going through a change in pronunciation at the time (I've often seen it spelled "git", which I presume was an attempt at writing some non-standard pronunciation). Was he expressing a peeve? And are there any dialects of English spoken by Language Loggers in which "get" rhymes with other "-et" words?

  51. Nathan Myers said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    Of course the traditional pronunciation is "aint", hanging on despite ferocious suppression. Curiously, "offen" remains standard, as has "Sundy, Mondy" etc. Why is "aint" (and cousin "haint") singled out?

  52. John Lawler said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    >Lawler, how comes one instance of "awndz" when I was able to think of "sounds" and "rounds" in less than a minute?

    Both of those are inflected (i.e, the final /z/ is not part of the root, but a suffix). The database bans proper nouns and words containing productive derivational or inflectional suffixes. The single non-inflected -awndz word in the database is 'zounds', the interjection. It originated with a plural suffixe, but nowadays it doesn't really have any internal structure. And i

  53. Bobbie said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

    dwmacq said : In quite a few Dr. Seuss books, "get" is rhymed with "let," "wet," "bet," etc. I've always found that disconcerting, as in my dialect at least "get" is generally pronounced /gɪt/ while the others are pronounced, e.g., /lɛt/. …..

    In my dialect (and when I was studying dialects in preparation to be a speech pathologist) there was and **is** a difference between the pronunciation of GIT and GET — the first considered more regional and less "correct" than the second…. I, for one, find it disconcerting when "get" is rhymed with "bitt"….

  54. Bobbie said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    I delight in the lyrics from "Mexican Radio" — "I wish I was in Tiajuana, eating barbecued iguana…. " Love that rhyme!

  55. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

    dwmacg asks : "[A]re there any dialects of English spoken by Language Loggers in which "get" rhymes with other "-et" words?", to which I must answer "yes, at least one". I speak standard Southern British English, and in my idiolect "get" most certainly rhymes with "let" and its friends.

  56. Mark F said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

    WRT "door hinge", I pronounce words somewhat differently when the rhythm of what I'm saying demands it, and this is of course stronger in poetry. If I try to say "door hinge" as a single unit with the accent on the first syllable and no secondary accent, then the h is pretty nearly elided. The initial vowel sound is still different from the one I use for "orange", but it's within the range of pronunciations that sound correct to me. I agree it's not a winner as a perfect rhyme for "orange", but it's not a ridiculous attempt.

  57. Mark P said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

    "regional" = "less correct"?

    If I am enunciating, I pronounce get somewhere between "get" (rhymes with bet) and "git" (rhymes with bit). If I am speaking normally, and the word is not emphasized, it rhymes with bit. No one I know here in NW Georgia and NE Alabama (outside of a few transplants near Atlanta) would normally say get so that it rhymes with bet, although I suspect that many would see the printed words as rhyming.

  58. Eric TF Bat said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    I wrote this ages ago; it's called A Supposedly Impossible Rhyme:

    I ate too much dinner;My face has gone purple.An aspirin won't help me,But maybe a burp'll.

  59. Eric TF Bat said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    (Oh, and your preview is broken. But I guess you knew that.)

  60. Peter Taylor said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 7:05 pm

    To add to Philip Taylor's comment (no relation, by the way), the OED lists /get/ as the pronunciation of get (and /bet/, /let/, /met/, etc).

    Actually I hadn't realised that "git" was so widespread. I associate it with Westerns, probably because of one exchange between a cowboy and a prescriptivist from the end of a film whose name I don't know:

    Cowboy: There ain't room in this town for the both of us!
    Prescriptivist: No, there isn't room in this town for both of us!
    Cowboy: That's what I said: there ain't room in this town for the both of us!
    Prescriptivist: The problem is your grammar.
    (Cowboy walks down the street to an old woman knitting in a rocking chair on a porch)
    Cowboy: Gramma, git!

  61. ACW said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

    @dwmacq: "Get" unambiguously rhymes with "let" for me, and not with "lit". I grew up near Detroit.

  62. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

    For me and, I suspect, many of my peer, I think "get" occupies an ambiguous area: I know that most likely in casual conversation I say "git", but I am reluctant to admit that I do and might insist that rhyming with "let" is the "correct" pronunciation.

  63. Q. Pheevr said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

    I think I'd be inclined to use a definition of rhyme that's slightly more inclusive than yours, though still much less so than whatever it is the Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes goes on. (Orange–interchange? I'd worry about getting points on my poetic licence….) The Wikipedia definition that Chris cited is what I'd go with: identical from the last stressed vowel, rather than from the main-stressed vowel. So, for example, Álbuquèrque would count as rhyming with túrkey. Lurking behind this preference is a vague sense that words that are singletons because they're very long are somehow less interesting than singletons like silver or bulb. On the other hand, a large proportion of the longer words in English follow the right-aligned Latinate stress pattern, so maybe it wouldn't make much of a difference to the overall counts.

    [(myl) This is a good idea — I'll try it when I have a few spare minutes. I think you're right that it won't make a lot of difference, but it's worth a try.

    Something that might make more difference would be to eliminate from the class of singleton sets all wordforms that also participate in larger sets under a different pronunciation. This is slightly tricky to program, at least if you want to distinguish variant pronunciations from homographs, so it'll have to wait until I have an hour or two to spare.]

  64. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

    In the next post on rhyming with "orange" (whose comments have been disabled, but which I can't see why it wouldn't be fair to comment on here instead), Geoffrey Pullum notes "And his poem only works for those (mainly Midwestern or Western American) dialects in which the first syllable of corrugated is basically homophonous with car". I found this comment surprising; I've often been told that using that sound in words like "corrugated", "orange", "horrible", "Florida", etc., is a New York/New Jersey type thing, and figured this meant it was NOT a common feature in Midwestern or Western American accents. Have I been misled all this time?

    [Indeed, above, Jongseong Park notes "This works with those who pronounce 'orange' as [ˈɑɹəndʒ], mostly in parts of the East Coast like New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and the Carolinas.". So, we have Western America, Midwestern America, and a fair bit of Eastern America (the mid-Atlantic, at least part of the South) as well. Is this feature actually damn-near ubiquitous across America? (I would find that very hard to believe…)]

  65. kato said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

    Rhyming with beige, at least in my dialect are….gauge, rage, age, and everything else. That just goes to say that rhymes have a lot to do with dialectal pronunciation, as has been made obvious by the preceding comments.

    @whoever doesn't pronounce orange as one syllable with two syllabic vowels [ oṛṇj ], it's pronounced monosyllabically! but three syllables when plural.

  66. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

    I side with Sridhar Ramesh, and think Geoffrey Pullum made a mistake. I believe it's common in Western North America, where I am from, to pronounce "orange" and "Oregon" and "Florida" with the vowel from "ore", not the vowel from "odd".

  67. Alex said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

    They also did orange on QI:


  68. Carl M said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    Wow .. what a fun group … :-)

    When I suggested that "door hinge" was a suitable rhyme for orange, I meant this in the sense that a limerick writer who needed a rhyme for orange could get away with it. Yes, it relies on a particular (but rather common in the US) pronunciation of orange and a bit of a cheat with "door hinge," but my point is that far worse stretches for rhymes are common in poetry (and especially in limericks).

    I'd also point out that it is true that if I was asked to read the words "door hinge" I would not pronounce them as a rhyme for orange, but (at least American) speakers of English are lazy enough that in a construction like "I need a dozen door hinges" it would not be unusual to hear it pronounced as a (near) rhyme for (the most common American pronunciation of) oranges.

  69. B K said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

    I have to say that for me, the word 'rhyme' relates something other than words (it's probably groups of syllables, right?). While it's fine to say that two words rhyme, that's just shorthand for saying that the syllables in the words rhyme.

    'Real' rhymes (in vivo rather than in vitro) occur in poems and songs and jingles and phrases and my intuition is that they commonly involve more (and sometimes less) than the final words of lines. Picking up a copy of Poetry, I find 'casket', 'task it', (that one involves enjambment, where the line breaks a syntactic unit) and 'unmask it' without flipping too many pages.

    So it seems somehow missing the (some?) point to talk about lexical classes of rhymes. Even supposing we restrict ourselves to single words for one of the participants in the relation, it just doesn't seem right to put a word in the same class as 'orange' because no single word (or compound, or even phrase) rhymes with it. 'Orange' (and yeah, many other words, no doubt) involves a combination of syllables that is generally hard to create any other way.

    Shouldn't the hacking involve the pronunciations of attested n-grams in a corpus or something? I mean, such a script couldn't really approach what a poet or rapper could do with the raw materials of the language, but I bet it would easily eliminate a lot of singletons.

  70. Timm! said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

    Mark Liberman: Doing more Linguistics before breakfast than most people do all day.

  71. J. Goard said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:37 pm

    The two wordforms gobblers and wobblers are given (mistaken?) alternative pronunciations with a syllabic /l/, perhaps due to being derived from gobble and wobble. Or maybe they (the original dictionary authors, I guess) are referencing an alternative pronunciation where gobbler has three syllablers, gob-ble-er? In any case, cobblers lacks this alternative. So we end up with one triple (cobblers, gobblers, wobblers) and one pair (gobblers, wobblers).

    I would almost certainly produce wobbler with three and cobbler with two, while gobbler could go either way. It's like Bybee's early studies showing greater reduction in every versus memory versus summary versus mammary, or something to that effect. Syllable loss in schwa+liquid, related to frequency.

    Frequency-based phonetic reduction plays hell with rhyme. Does family rhyme with hammily? Not the way I usually say it, for sure, but the three-syllable representation still lingers.

  72. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:00 am

    For a savory singleton scene, see The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth. (And they say alliteration is dead.) (Simon Cauchi, I get italics by using HTML tags: before and after. Remove the extra spaces.)

    Count me with those who pronounce orange as one syllable and oranges as two. The knock-knock joke totally baffled me as a child. I suspect it was invented in or near New York, where orange and aren't usually have the same vowel and aren't often has two syllables. (And for me, get rhymes perfectly with let, etc.)

    Speaking of which, I agree with others that Geoffrey Pullum made a mistake about where orange rhymes with bizarre enj-. I've only heard that from people from the East (east of Cleveland, where I grew up).

    @Nathan Myers: Does anybody still say ain't for aren't but not for am not, isn't, hasn't, and haven't?

    @"Albert Gorringe": Defend and offend are indeed not a perfect rhyme. Neither are right and write. I have no love for the consonne d'appui, Echo's fey child, and I wouldn't rhyme antidisestablishmentarian with vegetarian either. Groups of rhyming words are indeed equivalence classes, but the equivalence relation isn't "rhymes with", since that's neither symmetric nor transitive. On the other hand, there are pleasures in imperfect rhyme.

    @army1987: Say /'sɪmətri/ and break the rhyme!

  73. Mark P said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:06 am

    Again from down here in NW Georgia and NE Alabama, orange/bizarre enj- rhyme for us.

  74. uberVU - social comments said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:23 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by languagelog: Rhymes: Andrew Gelman is justifiably impressed by Laura Wattenberg's ruminations on rhyme (warning: the second link… http://bit.ly/8SXFhA

  75. Emma said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 1:26 am

    Californians say "orange" to rhyme with Oregon, and never to rhyme with horrible. Geoff Pullum seems to have gotten it backwards.

  76. C. Scott Ananian said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 1:38 am

    I did some work using slant rhymes in large text databases to test proposed measures of phonologic similarity here: Perceptual Salience in English Reduplication. The paper evaluates vowel-only rhymes in order to measure consonant similarity.

  77. Nathan said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 1:39 am

    @Jerry Friedman: I've never heard the idea that right and write are not a perfect rhyme; they're absolutely homophonous for me. Could you give IPA transcriptions of your pronunciations?

  78. Joejoe A said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 1:40 am

    I gave an orange
    To that foreign g-
    entleman. Because
    Dry is what he was.

  79. Spectre-7 said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 1:50 am

    Californians say "orange" to rhyme with Oregon, and never to rhyme with horrible. Geoff Pullum seems to have gotten it backwards.

    Hmmm. I'm thoroughly Californian, and am having some difficulty rhyming orange with either of them, for the strictest sense of rhyming at least. Also, they all seem to have the same initial vowel sound for me, so I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at.

    I did learn something useful, though. Saying, "Orange, Oregon, horrible," out loud several times in a row seems to attract strange looks. :)

  80. Nathan Myers said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 2:08 am

    Brian deserves some kind of prize for Four engineers / In orange brassieres. It rhymes perfectly while violating every conceivable expressible definition.

  81. Spectre-7 said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 3:24 am

    Four engineersWith orange veneersShared a dentist whose sight could be better.

    Not a worry had theyAs they all chose to say,"Seems today I'm a dental trend setter."

    None knew the truthWhich they bore on their toothThat their mouths were as tacky as sin.

    Since their closets would show,What we all surely know,That their threads were as bad as their grin.

    Apologies, of course. It's not very good, but I had to give it a try. :) Double apologies if the formatting gets all mucked up, as I fear it will.

  82. Spectre-7 said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 3:26 am

    Fears confirmed. Looks like (br /) tags don't work here. :(

  83. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 4:03 am

    Four engineers / In orange brassieres. It rhymes perfectly

    Not in my dialect it don't.
    Engineers rhymes with fears, tears, jeers, steers, etc.
    Brassieres rhymes with airs, pears, fares, who cares, etc.

  84. Peter Taylor said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 5:07 am

    Q. Pheevr wrote:

    The Wikipedia definition that Chris cited is what I'd go with: identical from the last stressed vowel, rather than from the main-stressed vowel. So, for example, Álbuquèrque would count as rhyming with túrkey.

    I would put the main stress on the penultimate syllable of Albuquerque, so that would qualify as a rhyme anyway.

    @Carl M, your comment on "I need a dozen door hinges" reminds me of the Two Ronnies sketch "Fork 'andles".

  85. Daan said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 6:16 am

    If poetry is the only use for rhyme, what do poets think about all these rules for what is a rhyme and what isn't? Is there a database of rhyming words written by poets?
    I'm not sure about English, but such databases were certainly compiled about Chinese poetry in order to aid reconstruction of earlier Sinitic languages. In the case of Old Chinese, which is approximately the language spoken in the Zhou dynasty (researchers are not too sure about the age of the sources), such research often depends largely on the rhymes of the verse from the Shijing, also known as the Book of Songs. We know there were certain rhyme rules governing poetry, so if we analyse all the verse we have at our disposal, we can tell which words would have rhymed for the authors. We can then use data on Middle Chinese (Tang dynasty), for which many contemporary rhyme dictionaries and rhyme sets are available, and try to figure out what Old Chinese would have sounded like. But as here, in the literature, there's a lot of debate on what exactly constitutes rhyme and how dialect pronunciations should be treated.

  86. empty said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 7:52 am

    @Jerry Friedman: For me the knock-knock joke worked, even though it's not an imperfect rhyme. I felt it was understood that in making a bad joke you're allowed to make a bad rhyme. I think I did not start noticing that some people say "arnj" until later.

  87. Richard Sabey said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 7:53 am

    @John Lawler The pronunciation of zounds rhyming with "sounds" is a spelling-pronunciation (zounds comes from "God's wounds" and is pronounced /zu:ndz/)

    You list -æptʃ as a rime class with 1 member ("rime" according to your definition, viz "the nucleus and coda of the first (stressed) syllable"). Capture, rapture?

    @Simon Cauchi Pope rhymed "join" with "line", e.g. in An Essay on Criticism:

    While expletives their feeble aid do join;
    And ten low words oft creep in one dull line, [ll. 346-7]

    Good-nature and good sense must ever join;
    To err is human, to forgive, divine. [ll. 524-5]

  88. Mark P said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    Why can I say my "get" rhymes with "bit" or "bet" and be almost certain that everyone knows how I pronounce "get"? It seems that get is the only three letter English word ending in "et" that has that ambiguity. It's the same for dog, which in my part of the country is often pronounced as "dawg." I noticed that Barack Obama pronounced dog nearly as "dawg" when he was interviewed on one of the late-night talk shows before he got Bo.

  89. Ellen said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 10:13 am

    @Nathan: write and right are not a perfect rhyme because they are homophonous. A perfect rhyme (by some definitions) would require two different initial consonants.

    @Mark P: If I'm understanding what you mean by "dawg", that pronunciation of dog rhymes with bog, and hog, and probably more. It's also the only pronunciation of dog I'm familiar with.

  90. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 10:27 am

    Ellen : I think by "dawg", Mark was suggesting a non-rhotic "do:rg".

  91. mollymooly said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    @Nathan Myers/Jerry Friedman

    Of course the traditional pronunciation is "aint"/Does anybody still say ain't for aren't but not for am not, isn't, hasn't, and haven't?

    IIRC "ain't" and "aren't I" both originate from "am not", thus: "am not I"> "amn't I"> "an't I" > "ain't I"/"aren't I". The places where "amn't" survives (Ireland & Scotland) are also the places where "ain't" is unknown. Perhaps the correct question would be "Does anybody still say ain't for 'am not [1sing]' but not for 'aren't [2sing/123pl]', 'isn't', 'hasn't', and 'haven't?'"

    The pronunciation of "an't" changed from [ant] > [ɑːnt] as "can't" from [kant] > [kɑːnt] (cf. "can" [kan]); the [ɑːnt] pronunciation was homophonous with the nonrhotic pronunciation of "aren't", hence the illogical change of spelling.

    I don't know whether the [eɪnt] pronunciation evolved from [ɑːnt] or direct from [ant] (cf. "can't" as [keɪnt] "cain't"). Was there are previous "in't" reduction of "isn't" for "ain't" to subsume (cf. Cockney "innit")?

  92. Mark P said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    Ha. I forgot that not everyone would pronounce "dawg" the way I do. I think it's similar to the way I pronounce hawk. TV sports reporters call the Atlanta basketball team (the Hawks) the "hocks" according to my pronunciation, but I say the "aw" differently. I don't know how to transcribe that sound technically, so I tried to figure out something that everyone recognizes. It seems pretty easy with "git" and "bet/jet/let/met/pet/set/vet/wet" (again, why is that?) but not with dog and hog.

    In any event, my dog does not rhyme with my hog.

  93. Jon Lennox said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 11:10 am

    dwmacg: I grew up in Western Mass (Northampton, about half an hour north of Dr. Seuss's Springfield), and for me "get" and "let" definitely rhyme.

    My favorite rhyme for Orange is an internal rhyme in Dave Carter's By The River Where She Sleeps:

    Professor come to burst my bubble, says that girl is bound for troubleServes me solace in a paper cupBut it looks a bit like agent orange and when he leaves he slams the door andJust about that time she phones me up

  94. Jon Lennox said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 11:14 am

    Sorry, preview lied to me about the formatting of my last post. Let's try that again:

    Professor come to burst my bubble, says that girl is bound for trouble
    Serves me solace in a paper cup
    But it looks a bit like agent orange and when he leaves he slams the door and
    Just about that time she phones me up

    Also, is Language Log's server really located in Atlantic Canada, despite the UPenn URL, or has someone forgotten to tell it that daylight saving time ended?

  95. Mark P said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 11:21 am

    Maybe I should point out that in the rural southern US, it was fairly common, if not universal, for all three-letter words ending in "og" to sound the same. However, in most places the pronunciation of all of those words except dog has changed. If you want to know how I pronounce dog, maybe you can find the Obama interview in which he said it close to the way I do. I think it was on a Jay Leon interview in March 2009.

  96. Ellen said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    For me, most -og words rhyme with dog, but not nog and cog, which have a different sound, same as in toggle, boggle, soggy. I'm neither rural, nor southern, though not terribly far from the northern reaches of the south.

  97. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    @fiddler: Databases of rhymes for poets are called "rhyming dictionaries". This search says the first one in English was published in about 1679, but in French they go back to the early 15th century. I occasionally use the one at http://www.rhymezone.com/.

  98. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

    I make the same distinction between hock and hawk as I do between don and dawn, vowel duration short and long, respectively. Isn't that why the w is in there?

    Well, I dunno. I also say tick-tock (clock) but tick-talk (discussion of arachnids).

    Same distinction as in Swedish damm (dust) and dam (lady).

  99. dwmacg said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    Thanks all for the comments regarding your pronunciation of "get", especially Jon Lennox. Its comforting to know that the good Dr. was representing the language as he pronounced it and not engaging in covert peevology. I'll just have to struggle to adjust my pronunciation next time my son asks me to read Green Eggs and Ham.

  100. Boris said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    There is such a thing as poetic license. You can pronounce words differently in poetry for the sake of rhyme, even if they don't usually rhyme in the reader's (or even the poet's) dialect. I see no problem with pronouncing both "orange" and "door hinge" in a way that would make them rhyme when reading a poem. Of course, the question is how far is too far? Does anyone really pronounce "California" in such a way that it rhymes with "surfin' USA"?

  101. Sili said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:23 pm


    I think the 'standard' is to have the fricative in /bɛʒ / and the affricate in /ɹɛɪdʒ/ &c.

  102. empty said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    (grrr — I meant even though it is an imperfect rhyme)

  103. Dan T. said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

    I pronounce "get" to rhyme with "bet" or "set"; I grew up in New York state.

    In the 1940s, there was a comic book character named Hayfoot Henry, published in Action Comics along with the more famous Superman (when it was an anthology comic with multiple stories of different characters), who was a cop who was also trying to create a rhyming dictionary, and solved both a crime and a rhyme in every story. When the puzzling rhyme for him was "orange" one issue, he "solved" it with "sore binge".

  104. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

    The Tom Lehrer lines quoted by GKP should obviously have been written as a couplet (with internal rhyme as well as end-rhyme):

    Eating an orange while making love
    Makes for bizarre enjoyment thereof.

    Likewise Humbert Wolfe's well-known squib, printed as an eight-line poem in two stanzas, is really a quatrain:

    You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
    Thank God! the British journalist,
    But seeing what the man will do,
    Unbribed, there's no occasion to.

    That comes from a longer poem, The Uncelestial City, but it's the only thing he wrote that is still remembered — or, at any rate, the only thing of his included in the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations.

  105. Kaja said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    @army1987: Interesting. I've always gone with /'sɪmətri/ for "symmetry" and /i/ for "eye", based on my understanding of older forms of English (it's spelled "ee" or "e" in many cases of Middle English usage, for example).

    Now I rather like /sɪmətraɪ/.

  106. kato said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

    @ Jerry Friedman

    how do you explaining right and write not being perfect rhymes? maybe the vowel in your write is more round than the vowel in your right? i think that is a feature of some dialects. generally, i think, they'd make a perfect rhyme.

  107. Nathan Myers said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 12:47 am

    I grew up rhyming "dog" with "log", in Hawaii, but now say "dawg". (Exaggerating it, it might sound halfway between "doe-wog" and "due-wog".) Similarly for hawk/hock, bowl/bull/toll.

    I remember being utterly mystified by vowel distinctions presented in dictionaries, presenting a distinction with no difference whatsoever.

  108. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:29 am

    @kato: I was using the traditional definition of rhyme in English-language poetry. As Ellen said, homophones are considered not to rhyme. So as far as I know, I pronounce write, right, and rite exactly the same.

    You'll find that "identical rhyme" is rare in the more cultivated kinds of English verse. That includes possibilities such as pair and compare, and I'd even hesitate to rhyme despair with either of those. On the other hand, in classical French poetry, identical rhyme is considered a bonus.

  109. Dan T. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:14 am

    There's also "Wright" as yet another homonym.

    However, the proper name with the most distinct spellings that I know of is "Ray", which has been spelled as either a first or last name of people I've heard of (and in some cases knew personally) as "Ray", "Raye", "Wray", "Rey", "Rea", or "Rae".

  110. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    Don't forget actress Caroline Rhea!

  111. Jeff DeMarco said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

    W.S. Gilbert contributed the following small item to Fun for May 30 1868 (p132):

    I am a comic poet, but too often hard up for a rhyme. Many words in common use have no rhyme at all to them–others have only one or two. We all know the familiar examples of rhymeless words–"orange," "silver," and "month," but these are words that one seldom wants to end a line with, so their peculiarities are not a matter of much importance. But such petty monosyllables as "up," "with," "for," &c., should be better provided with rhymes than they are. My suggestion is, that inventors be requested to give names to their inventions that will rhyme with these and other words whose recurrence at the end of lines often drives a bard frantic. The poet and the inventor would each derive a material benefit from such an arrangement–the poet would have rhymes to awkward words, ready to hand, and the inventor would consequently get his invention advertised gratuitously. What was the inventor of the Rantoone about, that he did not call it the "Runth"? "Month" would have been mated, and all would have ended happily. As it is, that unfortunate word has no alternative but to put up with a discreditable left-handed union with "runn'th" (for "runneth"), or "millonth," with a senseless emphasis on the last syllable.–Yours,

  112. Ellen K. said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    I'm still confused by what people mean by "aw" in their spelling pronunciations. I always take that to mean /ɔ/, like saw, but I wonder if some folks are using it to represent a dipthong?

  113. Ken Brown said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 11:18 am

    Ellen K. said "I'm still confused by what people mean by "aw" in their spelling pronunciations. I always take that to mean /ɔ/, like saw, but I wonder if some folks are using it to represent a dipthong?"

    This is where us amateurs foul up. Well, I do anyway. For me and people who speak like me (urban SE England) /ɔ/ is the vowel in "saw" and "caught" (and is distinct from the vowel in "cot" and also from the one in "cat") BUT it is sometimes a dipthong and sometimes not. Same phoneme, range of phones (if I can trust Wikipedia to use the correct jargon)

    So I don't know how to represent the way I think I speak in IPA. Also I don't know for sure if what I think I am saying is what others would hear. And I don't know for sure if the way I speak while I am thinking about how I sound is the way I would speak if I wasn't.

    Which is why I have to take comments like "when I say this word it rhymes with that one" or "I use such-and-such a vowel" with a pinch of salt. Even when I make them myself.

  114. Jason Eisner said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    I love the Tom Lehrer verse (works perfectly in my dialect) that Geoff posted as a comments-off followup,

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

    but it does suggest the following variant:

    Eating an orange
    While making rhymes
    Makes for bizarre enj-
    ambment of lines.

    p.s. I realize that only lines 1 and 3 actually rhyme, not 2 and 4, but consider that an homage to Lehrer's The Folk Song Army:

    The tune don't have to be cle-ver,
    And it don't matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line.
    It sounds more ethnic if it ain't good English,
    And it don't even gotta rhyme.
    Excuse me, rine.

  115. Michael Wagner said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

    Kate McCurdy and I are currently working on cross-linguistic differences in rhyme, and have been looking at the lexical statistics a bit. After seeing Mark's post, I posted a discussion here: http://prosodylab.org/labblog/

  116. Dan T. said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

    "Up" has "cup", "pup", "sup", etc. "For" has "door", "bore", "more", "adore", "paramour", etc.

  117. Minnesotastan said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

    I have no idea who crafted this little ditty –

    In Sparkill buried lies that man of mark
    Who brought the Obelisk to Central Park –
    Redoubtable Commander H.H. Gorringe,
    Whose name supplies the rhyme for “orange.”

    It's been in my notebooks for several years, but it may be much older than that.

  118. Graeme said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 5:17 am

    Beige has no rhyme?

    In Australia, 'the beige stage falls plainly on the stage'.

  119. misterfricative said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

    Take a peek into the hip-hop universe and you'll find that purple suddenly has more assonance-stretching 'rhymes' than you can shake a stick at. Here's a 5-way cluster from LL Cool J's 'Control Myself': inferno/Cuervo/purple/circle/hurt you.

  120. Private Zydeco said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    Motion to again draw direct attention to that particularly incisive culprit
    already fingered at but not quite brought entirely to full to charge by the
    duo of sleuths Mssrs. Ken Brown and Gregory Martin, and heartily invoke
    the word SOH-ringe.

  121. Ross Bates said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 12:58 am

    It also matters if it's Bob Dylan that's pronouncing the rhyme. ;)

    Love the post. Thank you!

  122. B K said,

    December 16, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    Chatted about this with my poet/non-native speaker significant other and got this in return:

    My love,
    would you like an orange?
    I prefer an apple.
    We attempt to crawl or inch
    toward eternity.
    But the choice of fruit
    (really) doesn't matter.

    What I find really interesting is that she final-devoices because of her native language, but it almost works because I think the final consant of 'orange' is usually devoiced in spoken English. Perhaps because the final syllable is unstressed?

    [(myl) At least in American English, final "voiced" fricatives and affricates are usually phonetically voiceless, the phonological difference in "voicing" being carried by differences in duration of the preceding vocoids.]

  123. Rhyme is in the Air said,

    December 26, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

    […] two days ago Mark Liberman at the Language Log published a post on just that topic (thanks to Bob Ladd for pointing out the post to me). He notes that no one seems […]

  124. hanmeng said,

    December 28, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    Minnesotastan's ditty is in Arthur Guiterman's Gaily the Troubadour (1936). The four engineers are from Willard Espy's poem, "The Unrhymable Word: Orange". Although it doesn't rhyme orange, P. G. Wodehouse had my favorite:

    I take it you know that Orange number at the Palace? It goes–

    Oh, won't you something something oranges,
    My something oranges,
    My something oranges;
    Oh, won't you something something something I forget,
    Something something something tumty tumty yet:

    or words to that effect. It's a dashed clever lyric….

  125. Florian Blaschke said,

    March 1, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

    The reason why Goethe (and many others) were able to rhyme "für" and "vier" is because they actually sounded identical in their own spoken dialects (Frankfurt dialect in Goethe's case). Delabialisation or unrounding of umlaut vowels is very common in Modern German dialects (a map is found in Werner König's "dtv-Atlas Deutsche Sprache), and as late as the 19th century (if not longer) it was also regularly carried over into the pronunciation of written Standard German by speakers of those dialects. Even if this is now deprecated and everyone is taught at school to pronounce umlaut vowels correctly (even in Austria, I'm sure – it would sound very much like a Bohemian German or Yiddish accent to unround your umlauts in the standard language), those rhymes are still accepted by tradition.

    (Unrounding, by the way, is good news for all those who have trouble with those pesky umlauts while learning German. Don't simply ignore the umlaut dots – but pronounce "ö" just like "e" and "ä", "ü" just like "i" and "äu" just like "ei" and it won't sound overly weird. Germans are used to that.)

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