I'll be off-line for a few days, so here's something to discuss amongst yourselves.

Fatherhood has made Better Half go all musical--he's constantly making up songs to sing to little Grover. I've been keeping track of some of the rhymes that he makes that wouldn't rhyme at all if I were to say them:
garden - Baden-Baden
banana - James Garner
snorty - naughty
All three of the so-called rhymes are scuppered by our different rhoticity (BH being non-rhotic and me rhotic), but we also have different vowels in banana and naughty. (We both approximate the German Baden-Baden in roughly the same way.) His banana has low, back vowels in both the last two syllables; mine has an [ae] (imagine that as a single symbol) in the middle. Thus, the middle syllable differs in much the same way as our pronunciations of bath differ--so check out bath on the Sound Comparisons website, if you'd like to hear that difference. The first vowel in naughty is much rounder in BH's dialect than in mine--see daughter on the Sound Comparisons site. In both cases on that site, my pronunciation is more like Ohio than 'Standard American' (the Standard American guy has a really annoying uptalk thing going on) and his is close enough to RP.

Incidentally, all this seems related to the reason [or one of the reasons] that Grover isn't named Frances, though we both like that name (that, and the fact that we like the name we gave her that much better). Our pronunciations of the 'a' make Frances sound like two different names, and we were afraid that would cause a personality disorder in our child. (Unfortunately, there are no 'a'+/ns/ words on Sound Comparisons, so again, you'll have to extrapolate from the difference in bath.) Somehow the fact that we've given her a name (yes, her real-life name, as well as her pseudonym) with a post-vocalic /r/ didn't seem like as much of a problem. I have no idea whether she's figured out yet that what Daddy says and what (BrE) Mummy says are both the same word, and her name. They say that a baby can recogni{s/z}e her/his name at four months old, but Grover doesn't particularly take notice when I call her name, so perhaps we've already done what Larkin said we'd do.

So, over to you, what rhymes have come between you and a speaker of another dialect?


  1. I suspect that having different pronunciations of Grover's name will be a very minor thing in the long run.

    I managed to survive that, but "David" in ScE pronunciation isn't that different from the AmE pronunciation.

  2. When I queue at Nando's (a chain restaurant in the UK), I often look at the sign on the wall saying "Nothing is fitter than a chicken in pitta!" and try to enumerate all the ways that phrase does not work in American English: First, "fit" is not used to mean generally "attractive" in US English. Second, the bread is spelled "pita" and the stressed vowel is the vowel of "team" rather than the vowel of "bit" as in English English. Third, there is no rhyme in US English. I wonder if I will one day come up with a fourth (and if I should eat at Nando's less often).

  3. My name is Joan, which seems to be unpronounceable to native Spanish speakers from Mexico. It comes out exactly like John, instead of like Joe with an N.
    (Sorry, not a BR/E vs Am/E issue, delete if deemed off topic.)

    I once saw a young Japanese woman with no Ls trying to figure out cannoli, and why they weren't pre filled, from a Bostonian with no terminal Rs. It took a while, they got there.

  4. If you don't want to waste time trying to represent full IPA here, you may find it convenient to use Kirshenbaum's "ASCII IPA", in which the "hat" vowel you were trying to represent with "[ae] (imagine that as a single symbol)" is written "[&]". The simplified variant (which is the one I've seen most frequently used) doesn't offer complete coverage of IPA but it is expressive enough to talk about differences between AmE and BrE. It seems to work for alt.usage.english, anyway.

  5. Your inclusion on BH's list of "banana" brought to mind the "test phrase" used in a recent documentary on Australian English ("The Sounds of Aus - http://shop.abc.net.au/browse/product.asp?productid=749112) which was "Ask the master to pass the bananas". Now it's all I can think of when I hear a classic broad Australian accent - all 'aaaar" vowels. The usual American pronunciation of banana always sounds like "ben-enna" to my Aussie ears.

    It was also claimed in the same program that the broad Australian vowels made it easier for Aussie actors to adopt other accents than vice-versa. It certainly seems true that no non-Australian actor ever seems to come close to emulating an Aussie accent - usually managing to sound like a strangled Cockney at best.

  6. We were making up pub quiz names for our mixed us/uk/nl teams. Sometimes we have enough people to field two teams, so we needed two names. Neither of the two uk-ers are R-adders (India does not become Indi-er), yet one of them came up with Cheetahs, with the implied joke of Cheaters. So I said we should be the Piano Tunas. At which point they looked at me like I was from Mars, because they didn't get it. Gah, that was no fun explaining!

  7. There's a Tribe Called Quest song (which actually begins with a riddle) where "tour", "galore", and "raw" are rhymed in succession. Even by the flexible standards of hip hop, I think that one only works in New York.

  8. Being a faithful reader of this blog and other linguistic sites has made me self-conscious about rhyming: when I recently wrote a bunch of doggerel, I found myself worrying over (and usually discarding) rhymes that only made sense in my own variety of English. (AmE, rhotic, with no caught/cot distinction.)

  9. James that rhyming triplet would pretty much work in most English accents, although in my Scottish one they would have three completely different endings.

  10. There's "pretty Rita, meter maid" which must be sung in BrE to make sense musically.

    Grover's not the only baby to ignore Mommy/Mummy. They usually say "Daddy" first, too. I'm told it's because babies consider the mother to be an extension of themselves -- no need to point her out -- whereas the father is some other person, who therefore merits specifying.

    -AmE speaker & mother of two

  11. I don't know if she ever tried to use it in a song but because of her pre-velar raising my Minnesotan wife utters and hears a perfect rhyme between Reagan and wagon.

    She was telling a friend that I was being interviewed for a student newspaper piece on "slang" and her friend thought I was to be talking about some violent online game called 'slaying'.

  12. My four-year-old, American born daughter has learned to say "criss-cross apple sauce" when crossing her legs. It doesn't rhyme very well even in American English, but rhymes even less well when I say it with my British accent!

  13. The link to the song you posted rhymes "man" and "can", which don't rhyme for me in that sense. "Man" has a longer vowel. "Can" has a short vowel in the auxiliary verb, but a longer vowel when it means a tin.

    And "dead horse" is rhyming slang for "tomato sauce" i.e. what Australians call ketchup.

  14. I've always thoght it interesting that in Australia:

    - shore
    - shaw
    - sure

    are all pronounced the same way. In the US they are all different. One of the many sources (pr. sauces!) of amusement when I lived in the Midwest.

  15. There's a song that was recorded in the 1940s by Duke Ellington called "(Otto make that) Riff Staccato". When Ray Nance sings the words "Otto" and "staccato", they rhyme perfectly, but they are far from it when pronounced here in Australia, or in Britain I imagine.

  16. the_sybil: "My four-year-old, American born daughter has learned to say "criss-cross apple sauce" when crossing her legs. It doesn't rhyme very well even in American English, but rhymes even less well when I say it with my British accent!"

    Hmm, I think that "cross" and "sauce" rhyme perfectly in my AmE accent (mostly western US these days).

    Plus, the rhyme has a certain charm that "siddown and shuddup" might arguably lack.


  17. "Criss-cross apple sauce" rhymes to me too =) (Arizona - US)

  18. "Cross" and "sauce" rhyme for me as well, obviously due to the cot-caught merger.

  19. Cross and sauce rhyme for me and I do not have the caught-cot merger.

  20. cross--sauce is the lot--cloth split, not the cot--caught merger.

    My nomination, from Oscar Hammerstein II:

    How can I be what I ain't?
    I cain't!

  21. I think I posted this in another thread once, but I was watching a comedian who made a joke based on the fact that Home and Poem rhymed.

    Never met or heard that same thing anywhere else.

    I also think that in the case of song lyrics, there is some large leeway in what technically rhymes, and what can almost rhyme if you say it in a certain way.

    But one that has always seemed strange to me is from Mr. Cole Porter himself in Kiss Me Kate.

    "Where is the life tha tlate I led?
    Where is it now? Totally Dead.
    Where is the fun I've yet to find?
    Where has it gone? Gone with the wind."
    (In case you havent heard it, the song pronounces Wind, not as the thing that blows, but the action of turning a knob on a toy.)

  22. Doug Sundseth and others:

    I think my daughter, being brought up by two Brits, says "criss-cross applesauce" with more of a British accent than I'd realised, hence the imperfect rhyme. I just asked two of her (American, with California accents) friends to say it, in order to hear the rhyme as it shoud be!

  23. mollymooly:

    Lifelong New Yorker Hammerstein was, of course, not rhyming in his native dialect, and I'm not sure there ever was a true variety of American English (rather than a showbiz put-on) where ain't and can't were perfect rhymes. Even if the phonemes were the same, the length of the vowels are different in most varieties of AmE I've encountered.

    (Though thinking about cinematic representations of the word "can't" always reminds me of the vocal coach scene in Singin' In The Rain: "I keeant stannim!")

  24. Grover has the same situation - parents who sound like they speak two different versions of English - as 3 of my British husband's cousins. Their mother is English, and their dad is American (from Rhode Island). They lived in Virginia. Maggie (the mum) told me recently that when they were little, they would often say things to her like, "Do you want me to say that the British way or the American way?"


  25. When I lived in the Midwest US, there was a charity run for the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), called the Dog Jog. For the midwesterners, this rhymed, but for me it was the Dawg Jahg. (Dog with the vowel as in "sauce" or "law", Jog with the vowel in "God" or "hob").

  26. tchem:
    and the funny part is that, to me, (raised in MA, living in MD) all of the words you wrote (Dog, sauce, law, jog, God and hob) all have the same vowel sound...

  27. The first thing that comes to mind is the first stanza of William Blake's poem "Tyger Tyger":

    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    To my American ears, the third and fourth lines don't rhyme at all. Do they rhyme for British readers, either now or in Blake's time?

  28. I'm American, but I think I can safely say that "eye" and "symmetry" probably don't rhyme in any current variety of BrE. Am I wrong?

    It seems more likely that it's a late example of the lingering effects of the Great Vowel Shift, though its late date encourages me to think that such rhymes had more or less become poetic convention (like the rhyming of "main" and "again," which was popular even with American poets into the twentieth century), rather than that Blake ordinarily pronounced both words so that they rhymed.

    But I'm no expert, just an interested student of literature and linguistics.

  29. Bill: "Aw" vs. "Ah" sounds. I'm from CT, so I think I ended up with 1/3 New England accent, 1/3 NYC accent, and 1/3 something else entirely. :)

    Also I've found the same thing with a bunch of the examples here--not only do the rhymes or non-rhymes not make sense, but even the "sounds like" words seem all wrong. All those funny-looking extra letters the linguists have start to look attractive.

  30. Do they rhyme for British readers, either now or in Blake's time?

    Which British readers? ;-)

    If I were to auto-translate it into Scottish English, then yes, because the last word on the second last line would be "ee". Which works rather beautifully with the powerful 'r' on the end of symmetry...

    If I was speaking in my accent's approximation to RP then no, they definitely do not rhyme.

  31. I'm not sure whether this rhymes in any variety of English or if it is actually meant to rhyme at all, but a well-known German company uses the slogan a brand like a friend. I find that very jarring.

  32. find/wind and eye/symmetry are called eye-rhymes

    Winston Churchill's "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war" fails utterly for my rhotic accent, though I don't think it's a great quote even when it rhymes.

  33. My kids learned "criss-cross applesauce" for sitting cross-legged as well. It rhymes for us and is used in place of sitting "Indian-stle" which is what it was called when I was growing up. (Am. Indian style -not politically correct, I guess.)

    I just watched The Wizard of Oz a few nights ago. The cowardly lion has a number of interesting rhymes in his songs. My favorite is his rhyming "prowess" and "mouse". I agree that there seems to be more leeway with rhyming in songs, especially when the songs are meant for characters that have a certain freedom to warp their words.

  34. Glad so many of you were able to contribute rhymes--lots of interesting stuff there. I spent a long time, though, trying to figure out why flatlander thinks Grover ignores me and pays attention to Daddy. Then I reali{s/z}ed it must be because I said she pays no attention when I call her name. I should have said: she pays no attention to her name (no matter who calls it). She LOVES the word 'chicken', though--gets her into hysterics. Before that, it was 'chop' that she loved.

  35. Though this is not on the subject of rhymes, I'd like to question your rendering "recogni{s/z}e" as if implying that English always use "s" and Americans always use "z".

    The Oxford Dictionary does recognize the spelling "recognise" but treats it as a variant along with racwnnis, racunnys, recognis, recognish etc.

    It wouldn't bother me at all except for the authority that people seem to grant to the Microsoft spell checker in such matters.

    I remember in the days before Microsoft that most words ending in -ize were spelt that way in England as well as in USA. Since Microsoft, there is a tendency to alter Br.E. spelling of words, quite wrongly.

  36. Vincent, I've explained my use of {s/z} back here.

  37. Thanks Lynnequist, I'll pursue the pestering of you on this topic over there!

  38. This is off topic, but worth bringing up, in response to Jonathan Bogart's post. Does the term "Indian style" really refer, in it's origens, to American Indians, or to those from India? It seems to fit that latter better. And being as we have the term "sacred cow" in American, I can imagine other terms referencing India making it to the U.S. without us Americans much thinking of the India connection.

  39. I passed a billboard yesterday for a pest control service that had in big letters: Buenos Noches Roaches. Which I thought was bad, but catchy. San Antonio is quite a bilingual town, I think. But this requires either bad Spanish pronuciation of Noches or bad English pronunciation of roaches to rhyme very well.

  40. Anonymous- I'm not sure where Indian-style came from but growing up Indian referred to the Native American kind not to the Eastern from India kind. It was only much later when I was in my late teens that I realized that people from India were called Indians as well, but always Eastern Indians. In England does "Indian" unadorned bring first Am. Indian or Eastern Indians to mind?

  41. My five-year-old and I were listening to an old BBC production of Tintin this morning. In it, at one point, Tintin rhymes "leisure" with "treasure", ha!

  42. Anne, you don't say where you're from, but I'm guessing you are American. That rhyme wasn't just because it was an old production - "leisure" would still rhyme with "treasure" in most BrE pronunciations. Contrast with "seizure", which wouldn't rhyme with them.

  43. When I first had my baby, I noted that a lot of classic nursery rhymes are in British English and don't rhyme at all when I say them.

    For example, in one nursery rhyme that "Spain" and "plain" rhymes with "again."

  44. Robin How do you pronounce Spain, plain and again if they don't rhyme? I can't think of any other way to pronounce them that doesn't rhyme.

    Again is occasionally pronounced as aggen rather than again - but this is regarded as slang and the word is usually pronounced again.

  45. I don't rhyme "again" with "Spain" or "plain" either. For me "Again" would rhyme with "pin" while "Spain" and "plain" would rhyme with "pane".

  46. Whereas for me (and almost all BrE speakers I think) again rhymes with pen.

  47. This is a big dialectal divide in the US. For me, 'again' rhymes with 'pen' and not with 'pin', but for some Americans, 'pen' sounds like 'pin', so 'again' would rhyme with them too. Google 'pen pin merger' for more info...

  48. Another rhyme that my son has heard is, "you git what you git and you don't throw a fit." I write get "git" the way it must be pronounced to rhyme. I have no idea what to think of this. Whether it is being cutesy or whether the e/i non-destinction works in the word get as well. It may. In either case, I won't throw a fit. [This is a late comment, but for some reason my son just thought of this today.]

  49. I pronounce git and get the same.

  50. Recently in an intro. linguistics course my students (here in Massachusetts) were given the old phonology exercise on Br/AmE [j] onglides (e.g. “tune” as [tjun] in BrE vs. [tun] in AmE) and some of them seemed to think that the BrE pronunciations were awfully affected... (I was aghast, but spared them my opinion that [tun] sounds ‘folksy’ to my ears. In my dialect(s), "resume" rhymes perfectly with "fume".)
    Lately I've also been hearing my students pronounce "room" as [rʊm] (that’s the upsilon in case your browser doesn’t diplay IPA), with the lax vowel that rhymes with "rook" rather than the tense vowel in "rude".

  51. I did an online search for rhymes for 'girl' once, which returned the suggestion 'squirrel'. Not just different vowel sounds but a different number of syllables in British English!

  52. Ros, I have heard some Scots pronounce "girl" in such a way as to rhyme with "squirrel".

  53. Joe asks, of Blake's The Tyger:

    To my American ears, the third and fourth lines don't rhyme at all. Do they rhyme for British readers, either now or in Blake's time?

    Not now, no. In Blake's time, I suspect, the rhyme of 'symmmetry' with 'eye' was already archaic. In the seventeenth century, though, Andrew Marvell could write:

    But at my back I alwaies hear
    Times winged Charriot hurrying near;
    And yonder all before us lye
    Desarts of vast Eternity.
    Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
    Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
    My ecchoing Song;then Worms shall try
    That long-preserv'd Virginity:
    And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
    And into ashes all my Lust.

    And it rhymed impeccably.

  54. Coming in very late, but:
    I think the joke of the pronunciation of "wind" in the song from "Kiss me Kate" quoted by Bill depends on the hearer being familiar with

    Blow, blow thou winter wind
    Thou art not so unkind
    As man's ingratitude.

  55. It's not only the Scots who rhyme squirrel with world. This particular rhyme was used in many blues recordings, most memorably by Blind Lemon Jefferson

    She's a fair made woman : and she's cunning as a squirrel
    When she starts to loving : man it's out the world

  56. • If — rather implausibly — you pronounce cover and discover the same way as hover, and with a typical American LOT vowel,

    • And if — rather more plausibly — you pronounce START words in a New England R-less accent,

    • Then you just might end up with Tom Lehrer's rhymes at the end of his Chemistry Element song.

    These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard
    There may be many others but they haven't been discovered


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)