LINGUIST List 12.2083

Wed Aug 22 2001

Sum: Mosaic Rhyme

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Karen S. Chung, Mosaic rhyme

Message 1: Mosaic rhyme

Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2001 18:14:14 +0800
From: Karen S. Chung <>
Subject: Mosaic rhyme

 Last month I posted an inquiry soliciting examples of
mosaic rhyme (
Lots of people suggested many good sources which I either
didn't know about or it didn't occur to me to check - thanks
to all of you!

 My interest in mosaic rhyme started with the difficulty
many of my Chinese-speaking students have with English
stress patterns. Typically, they stress many more words in a
sentence than a native speaker would, especially function
words like _her_, _at_ and _is_. I hope to design some
exercises that match and contrast sequences of stressed and
unstressed words with the stress pattern of a single word,
which is usually a bit easier for Chinese students. Judy Gilbert
has some good examples of this in her _Clear Speech_
(2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 61),
like: _absolute_, _have some fruit_; _electrification_,
_I need a vacation_.

 Here is a summary of the responses. Further
contributions are welcome; I'll post an addendum
if enough come in.

 Karen Steffen Chung
 National Taiwan University

 Many thanks to:

Keira Ballantyne <>
David Prager Branner <>
M. Jill Brody <>
Peter T. Daniels <>
Michael Johnstone <>
Bryan Kohl <>
Richard Laurent <>
John Lawler <>
David MacGregor <>
Pete Unseth <>
Catherine Walter <>
Karen Ward <>
Bob Whiting <>


The greatest rhyme in the English language comes from a
song in Stephen Sondheim's *Merrily We Roll Along*. In the
song "Jacqueline, Jackie, and Jack," which obviously was written
ca. 1962 and put away for 20+ years, comes the couplet (sung in
the persona of Jackie Kennedy):

"We'll have Leontyne Price to sing a
Medley from *Meistersinger.*"

A rich source for mosaic rhyme is Ira Gershwin's lyrics. There's
this from "Love Is Sweeping the Country" from *Of Thee I Sing*:

"Florida and Califor-
nia get together
In a festival of or-
anges and weather."

Note that the _melody_ treats the rhyme as being on Cal- and -val. I
don't know how to assign the -()n-.

(It's incredibly complex; I'm sure if I could remember the rest
of the lyrics to that song, I'd find many more examples.)

>From serious poetry, check out Joseph Brodsky. Here I love
the Fifth Eclogue; I think the English version is more complex
than the Russian original.

Peter T. Daniels <>


This one is from the song 'It Ain't Necessarily So', from the
opera Porgy and Bess, music by George Gerschwin, text by
Du Bose Heyward and Ira Gerschwin. The song, in case you
don't know it, doubts the truth of the Bible and refers to
several Bible stories.

Ol' Jonah he lived in a whale (twice)
Yes, he made his home in
That fish's abdomen...

and the poet Ogden Nash's work is _full_ of them.
The one that springs to mind is

The perfect husband:
He tells you when you've got on too much lipstick
And helps you with your girdle when your hips stick

but I'm sure that twenty minutes with a book of Nash's
poetry will turn up another dozen.

Catherine Walter <>


This piece from a song has mosaic rhyme in the third line,
where "CaliFORNIA" rhymes with "WARN YA".

Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I've often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in california, but girl, don't they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours

I think many songs use mosaic rhyme.

Pete Unseth


>From a hit song of 1972:
It never rains in southern California,
Girl, don't they warn ya?

Richard Laurent <>


(first letter) William S. Gilbert used these things heavily,
and I'd expect his works are by now all available on-line.

(second letter) I think these things are often associated
with the "wag" characters in Gilbert's librettos. You can find
them easily enough. Here's one such stanza from the Gondoliers:

 When told that they would all be shot
 Unless they left the service,
 That hero hesitated not,
 So marvellous his nerve is.
 He sent his resignation in,
 The first of all his corps, O!
 That very knowing,
 The Duke of Plaza-Toro!

And from the Pirates of Penzance:

 ...About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news -
 With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

etc. etc.

(third letter) There is an entire Gilbert and Sullivan web-ring. I
'd suggest starting at
You can find nice biographies of stars like Martyn Green and
John Reed there.

David Prager Branner <>


The first one that comes to mind is from "The Motorcycle
Song" by Arlo Guthrie:

"I don't want a pickle
Just want to ride on my motorsickle
And I don't want a tickle
'Cause I'd rather ride on my motorsickle
And I don't want to die
Just want to ride on my motorcy...cle"

David MacGregor <>


"I scream, You scream, We all scream for ice cream" is
from my childhood. How wonderful to learn what this
pattern is called - I never knew.

M. Jill Brody <>


The lyricist Dorothy Fields used this device quite a lot.
There are a couple of examples below:

"I Won't Dance"
When you dance you're charming and you're gentle!
'Spec'lly when you do the "Continental".

But this feeling isn't purely mental;
For heaven rest us, I'm not asbestos.
I won't dance! Why should I!
I won't dance! How could I?
I won't dance! Merci beau coup!
I know that music leads the way to romance:
So if I hold you in my arms I won't dance!

"A Fine Romance"

A fine romance, with no kisses
A fine romance, my friend this is
You're calmer than the seals
In the Arctic Ocean
At least they flap their fins
To express emotion

Keira Ballantyne <>


 As I read your post, my first thought was "Tom Lehrer!"
If you are not familiar with him (or even if you are :-),
he's an American Living Treasure, a humorist and musician
who wrote a number of satiric songs that contain many
mosaic rhymes.
 Lyrics (and some music -- the music is important to the
scansion in almost every case) are available at

John Lawler <>


 Here is a limerick I read ages ago, reconstructed as well
as my memory allows (I believe the relevant first, second,
and fifth lines are accurate):

A maiden caught stealing a dahlia
Pleaded "Oh, you shan't tell on me, shall ya?"
Her mother glared down
With a withering frown
And said "no, you must pay, you bad gal ya!"

Bryan Kohl <>


 An example that puzzled me greatly as a child was the
remark in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" that
although a particular character was a turtle, they called
him a "tortoise because he taught us." This is a rhyme that
doesn't really work in my West Coast American dialect,
but I later realized that it does work in RP.

 (The wordplay also puzzled me on a semantic level
because my dialect doesn't really distinguish between
"turtle" and "tortoise." I gather that Lewis Carroll's did.)

Karen Ward <>


Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider,
And sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

 This is a common English nursery rhyme. The rhyme
works because when unstressed the initial [h] of the
pronoun is lost (probably through lenitiion). Thus /spaydr/ -
/biysaydr/. It is basically identical in nature to your
toss 'em/awesome example.

Bob Whiting <>


 I tried to search my brain for a bit to see what I
could come up with. But so far all I've come up
with is the following from "The Bee Song":

But when bees die you really should see 'em,
Pinned on a card in a dirty museum.

 The complete text is handily posted at

 I remember Arthur Askey singing this song on a
children's record when I was young, and I think he
sang "in the British Museum" rather than what's on
the website.

 There's also plenty of examples of (near-)rhymes
in rap music, though not as quotable in polite company.
For example, 'Forgot about Dre' rhymes "trophies" with
"dough freeze", "Ho please", and "both knees", among
others (
and 'Stan' has the triple rhyme:

I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom
I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not-a got 'em

and it also rhymes "depressed" and "the chest".

Michael Johnstone <>

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