Vocab

Friday - - Leisure Test Your Iq -

Rhymes in words While on the sub­ject of rhymes, let’s look at rhymes within a word: where the first syl­la­ble (or first set of syl­la­bles) rhymes with the sec­ond. The words fall in three group­ings: con­so­nan­tal and vowel rhymes, as well as tau­tonyms (rep­e­ti­tion of the same syl­la­ble).

The use of con­so­nan­tal rhyming is com­mon in English poetry. Note the rhyming within the fol­low­ing words: pow­wow, boohoo, willynilly, harikari, pell-mell, shillyshally, silly billy, roly-poly, and namby-pamby, to name just a few.

The etymology of some of th­ese is in­trigu­ing. Namby-pamby, for in­stance, was the ti­tle of a poem writ­ten by Henry Carey in 1726 as he ridiculed Am­brose Phillips’ po­etic en­deav­ours. The word stays on in English to in­di­cate some­thing weakly sen­ti­men­tal, or a per­son who is in­de­ci­sive.

Willy-nilly was de­rived from the phrase ‘will ye, nil ye’, mean­ing ‘will­ingly or un­will­ingly’, as in the sen­tence: “He’ll have to do it willy-nilly”. The word also car­ries the mean­ing of vac­il­lat­ing, which is the mean­ing also for shilly-shally (from ‘shall I, shall I’).

There are many ex­am­ples of coinage in con­tem­po­rary slang that have al­ready en­tered the dic­tionary. One such ex­am­ple is jet set, which is de­fined in the Ran­dom House dic­tionary as “an ul­tra­fash­ion­able so­cial set com­posed of peo­ple re­puted to spend much of their leisure time in in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal jet­ting from re­sort to re­sort”. (An in­ter­est­ing trivia aside is the less-known term ‘set jet’, a verb to de­scribe travel by movie fans to ex­otic lo­ca­tions to see where their favourite scenes were shot.) Hi-fi, walkie-talkie, and even TV fit the cat­e­gory.

A ma­jor chunk of con­so­nant rhymes ap­pear in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, and un­der­stand­ably so given that they sound al­most hypocoris­tic (like baby talk). A full trea­sury of such rhyming words or names ap­pears in a sin­gle story: Chicken Licken (for some rea­son called Chicken Lit­tle in cer­tain ver­sions). The well-known ‘plot’ has the tit­u­lar fowl beaned by a fall­ing acorn and spread­ing panic say­ing, “The sky is fall­ing!” to such fel­low folk as Cock-Lock, Duck-Luck, Drake-Lake, Goose-Loose and a host of oth­ers. More on rhymes within words next week.

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