Dr. Seuss's rhyme, perfect every time?
January 2, 2011 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Did Dr. Seuss use half-rhymes?

It bothers me, far more than it should, when someone writes a Dr. Seuss parody and uses half-rhymes. ("Have you done it packed in rubber?/Have you done it undercover?") As far as I can remember, and as far as I've looked, Dr. Seuss never used half-rhymes.

I don't, however, have everything Seuss wrote at hand, so it's possible that I missed a place where he rhymed "me" with "cheese" or whatnot.

I'd love to get a definitive answer one way or the other. So, can someone out there either show me where Seuss settled on a half-rhyme, or give me a more definitive source than my own memory or some random person on the Web confirming that he only used perfect rhymes?

Due diligence: I'm aware that a pair of words may rhyme in one dialect but not another ("rain"/"again") and that some words have more than one pronunciation ("data"). Ideally I'm looking for words that are unequivocally not perfect rhymes in any widespread pronunciation.
posted by lore to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
He certainly used words that he corrupted, created, or stretched to conform to his rhyme scheme. A few examples, all emphases mine:
Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
And it klonked. And it bonked. And it jerked. And it berked.
And it bopped them about. But the thing really worked! [both from The Sneetches]
After that a week went by.
Then one dark night in Grin-itch
(I had to do an errand there
And fetch some Grin-itch spinach)
[What Was I Scared Of?]
Since Dr. Seuss gave himself this license to stretch the existing language, it's not surprising that imitators and parodists do so, too. I find it annoying, but I admit that's unreasonable. The examples you give don't appear to do the language-stretching within the text, but to ask the audience to do the stretching for them, which is slightly --- but only slightly --- different.
posted by Elsa at 8:29 PM on January 2, 2011

Horton Hears a Who:

"There aren't any Whos! And they don't have a Mayor!
And we're going to stop all this nonsense! So there!"


"And down on the dust speck, the scared little Mayor
Quick called a big meeting in Who-ville Town Square"

and, finally,

"They snatched Horton's clover! They carried it off
To a black-bottomed eagle named Vlad Vlad-i-koff" (not sure if that qualifies as a half-rhyme)
posted by aberrant at 8:34 PM on January 2, 2011

oh, and made-up words to rhyme:

"Thus he spoke as he climbed. When they got to the top,
The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, 'YOPP!'"
posted by aberrant at 8:36 PM on January 2, 2011

In Oh, the Places You'll Go!, there's this couplet:

"And when you're alone, there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants."

At least in my dialect, "chance" is pronounced differently than "chants," which would be the word that rhymes with "pants."
posted by explosion at 8:41 PM on January 2, 2011

Then one dark night in Grin-itch
(I had to do an errand there
And fetch some Grin-itch spinach)

I think he's specifying the pronunciation of Greenwich. Though it's hard to tell from context. And, yeah, sure, I'll buy that Greenwich rhymes with spinach. Though I'm also inclined to cut him a break on chance/pants. Mayor/there/square is a stretch, though. And stuff like off/Vladikoff usually drives me crazy in rhymed poetry - almost as bad as rhyming a word to itself.

I think "YOPP!" is fine - it's basically an homage to Walt Whitman's "I sound my barbaric yawp / Over the rooftops of the world." Though in general I have no problem with using onomatopoeia or world-building Proper Nouns to your advantage in a situation like that. If you get to the end of a line and need a name for someone, sure, make it a name that actually works for the constraints of the verse.
posted by Sara C. at 8:51 PM on January 2, 2011

Best answer: From Yertle the Turtle, there's this:

My throne shall be higher!" his royal voice thundered,
"So pile up more turtles! I want 'bout two hundred!"
posted by amyms at 8:51 PM on January 2, 2011

Mayor/there/square is a stretch, though.

In my Midwestern accent (no, not the Sarah Palin/Minnesotan one), these are basically perfect rhymes.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:55 PM on January 2, 2011

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug, so "Mayor" and "mare" are homophones in your accent? Strange. :)
posted by aberrant at 8:57 PM on January 2, 2011

Yep. Click the US flag on to hear the pronunciation: mayor, mare. mare sounds a bit nasally to me, and I say mayor with the 2 syllables slurred together just a bit more (or perhaps I just don't hold the 2nd syllable as long), but otherwise those are pretty close to how we say things around here.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:06 PM on January 2, 2011

And for completeness, here's square.

It could just be my brain wanting to hear my accent, but I'd say those recordings are all rhymes. mayor could be a slightly iffy one, depending on how long the 2nd syllable is help.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:10 PM on January 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I have a lazy California Coast accent so most of those are close enough to perfect rhymes for me, but thundered/hundred is definitely a half-rhyme to my ears.

I still think people need to work harder on their Seuss parodies, but maybe this will help me chill a little bit.
posted by lore at 11:40 PM on January 2, 2011

All of the Seuss ones sound like nearly perfect rhymes to me. But in my dialect I hardly pronounce the letter "r" at the end of words; "sore" and "saw" are nearly indistinguishable. The only one that catches my attention is "thundered" and "hundred", but I can make them rhyme by slurring slightly.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:08 AM on January 3, 2011

Theodore Geisel was from Massachusetts. Thundered and hundred would rhyme (hundred is pronounced 'hunderd'). You can resume the comedy-nerd-rage :)
posted by Kattullus at 4:44 AM on January 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Aberrant, mayor/mare/there/square are homophones here in Baltimore, too.
posted by brownrd at 4:54 AM on January 3, 2011

Seuss was a stickler for full rhymes. That's (partly) WHY he made up words. He was in favor of doing that if the other option was a half-rhyme. (I am basing this on interpretive reading -- not on knowledge of anything he said in an interview.)

Which doesn't mean that you'll never find a half-rhyme in his work. Having an aesthetic doesn't necessarily mean having the ability to carry it out perfectly at all times, e.g. with a looming publication deadline.

A good example of this is Stephen Sondheim, with reference to his new (wonderful) book on lyric writing, "Finishing the Hat." Sondheim HATES half-rhymes (as do I), and he's very tough on lyricists who "cheat" by using them -- including himself. Here and there, he points out lyrics where he cheated, usually with a sheepish comment.

Piggyback: I was going to post a question about half-rhymes, but I'll try it here. I know some people aren't bothered by them, but has anyone ever written an intelligent defense of them (one that goes beyond saying "Keats did it, and if it's good enough for him...")? I hate them, but I'd love to read someone's take on how they can be useful and meaningful devices. Maybe by prejudice is blinding me.
posted by grumblebee at 6:27 AM on January 3, 2011

Well, not to get too off track, but half-rhymes can be used as bridges, i.e. say you've rhymed 'moon' and 'soon' you can throw in a 'loom' and then go to 'rube' and 'boob.' It's a different kind of poetics from traditional prosody but half-rhymes can serve a function. Furthermore, if you use half-rhymes you've got a bigger set of possible words to use which both allows greater control over content and meaning and also opens up the possibility of a much longer chain of rhymes, this is common in rap prosody (e.g. Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys).
posted by Kattullus at 3:05 PM on January 3, 2011

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