A Feminine Touch

It should come as no shock that I’m a stickler for rhyme. Whether it be “cat” and “hat” or “two fish” and “blue fish,” I appreciate people who take the time to make their lines…line up.

But there’s a difference between these two examples, so it’s time for a short crash course in poetic…stuff. “Cat” and “hat” have parts of one syllable in common. Of course, they’re only one syllable long. So consider “surprise” and “disguise”–although they’re two syllables long, the stress is on the last syllable in both of them, and so we look at the stressed syllable. Since “ise” matches with “ise,” there’s the same kind of one-syllable rhyme going on here. This is, for some reason, called “masculine rhyme.”

But sometimes the stress is on the second-to-last syllable of a word (or a line). An example I wrote is “Wieters” and (for instance) “heaters.” The last syllables are exactly the same, and the previous syllables rhyme as well. This is called “feminine rhyme”. Personally, I’m particularly pleased with myself if I can come up with rhymes like that–often, they’re rarer then the masculine kind. (There are a few three-syllable combinations, like “clarity” and “parity,” which as far as I know don’t have a special name.)

Although these two-syllable rhymes can be hard to come up with, if you work for it it’s not that difficult. Given two rhyming verbs, you can always thrown an unstressed “ing” onto the back of both of them. Voila–feminine rhyme! (I am no means above this trick myself.) Last night, listening to “Good King Wenceslas,” I realized how many ways there are to do this. You can add a verb ending (“telling” and “dwelling”), stretch out some arguably monosyllabic words (“cruel” and “fuel”), use archaic words (“hither” and “thither” when “here” and “there” mean the same thing),  or even find two distinct rhyming words (“mountain” and “fountain”).

So, I got to wondering what other Christmas carols did…

Here, “suffix” denotes some other suffix than “ing” (dinted/printed), and “word” means there’s an unstressed word coming after two rhyming words (“own him”/”enthrone him”). “Weak” is just a rhyme I’m skeptical of (“deliver”/”forever”?)

A special shoutout to “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” which takes boring old “swing” and “sing” and conjugates them into “swungen” and “sungen.” Keeping it old school.


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