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.