Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Wiley-Blackwell Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Language Planning as a Sociolinguistic Experiment

By: Ernst Jahr

Provides richly detailed insight into the uniqueness of the Norwegian language development. Marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Norwegian nation following centuries of Danish rule

New from Cambridge University Press!


Acquiring Phonology: A Cross-Generational Case-Study

By Neil Smith

The study also highlights the constructs of current linguistic theory, arguing for distinctive features and the notion 'onset' and against some of the claims of Optimality Theory and Usage-based accounts.

New from Brill!


Language Production and Interpretation: Linguistics meets Cognition

By Henk Zeevat

The importance of Henk Zeevat's new monograph cannot be overstated. [...] I recommend it to anyone who combines interests in language, logic, and computation [...]. David Beaver, University of Texas at Austin

Summary Details

Query:   Mosaic Rhyme
Author:  Karen S. Chung
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition

Summary:   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 /spayd@r/ -
/biysayd@r/. 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

LL Issue: 12.2083
Date Posted: 22-Aug-2001
Original Query: Read original query


Sums main page