Thursday, September 29, 2011

You're a Poet, and You Didn't Even Realize It!

Have you ever stopped and thought about the way certain words - ones with no apparent etymological connection or shared background - sometimes end up in close proximity to each other over and over mainly due to the fact they just happen to rhyme and both relate to some shared aspect of our experience? I don't mean words that share a root word or words like biology and anthropology which are both fields of study ending in "ology."

I'm talking about words which rhyme AND, through fate or luck or chance, relate closely to the same concept. Pairs like "danger" with 'stranger" (the former is something the latter is likely to be); "float" with "boat" (the latter hopefully does the former); "fire" with "desire" (the latter can rage out of control like the former); and "pestering whore" with "festering sore." (Well, you get the idea.)

What happy accidents these were! How serendipity! No one ever set out - as far as we know - with the intention that vessels that travel on water would rhyme with the thing they need to do. It just worked out that way! And it gave rise to sayings like, "Whatever floats your boat!" I find that pretty damn interesting, myself. Of course, if somehow boats had come to be called "borts" or something like that, we wouldn't have that nifty expression. We'd have to find some other expression to fit the thought, maybe with totally different objects. Or maybe we'd find a different word to rhyme, like "whatever supports your borts!" Similarly, we might use our alternate words for expressions that didn't have (readily apparent) rhymes before. A simple saying like "Ships are safe in harbor," for example, could easily be supplanted with something along the lines of "Keep borts in ports."

Think about how different music would have been if the word for "heart" was "heet"! Instead of "start" and "apart," every damn song would have rhymes like "sweet," "beat" and "when we meet." Obviously, this would become just as annoying as all the "apart" and "start" songs, but I like to imagine these alternate scenarios. Actually, you don't have to imagine - it seems reasonable to assume that different languages have given rise to different cliched rhyming couplets.

What if the English word for "heart" was "orange"???!!!  Then what would we do?!!  Would we all suddenly turn into Rush and only write about stuff like free will and Tom Sawyer and "AWWWW salesman!" because nothing freakin' rhymes with "heart"?  Even Rush would have to change their song to "Closer to the Orange," and that just doesn't have the same ring to it. As it is, we only get two ordinary words that rhyme comfortably with "love" ("glove" and "above"), so we can't really afford to lose "heart" too!

It's also interesting how certain eras bore certain rhyming expressions. For example, no one in the 1800's would have said, "Be cool, stay in school!" because "cool" had not come to be regularly used that way until well into the 1900's. But once it DID happen, we got really COOL rhymes like, "Be cool, fool!" and "Cool is the rule!" Back in the 1800's (if people even cared about rhyming phrases in everyday parlance) we probably had to say stuff like, "Verily, act merrily!" and, man, that's just not cool. Maybe people had to say things like, "Stay temperate, always be a gent" and that's kind of lame. Plus, it's not a very good rhyme.

Thank god someone started using "cool" as a slang word! Do you think he (or she) stopped to think about all the potential rhymes 'cool" would spawn? Maybe he was leaning toward "icy" instead of "cool" but his more forward-thinking buddy said, "Hey, I rule, you drool, so use 'COOL' instead of 'ICY'!" This guy was so prescient that "cool" even rhymes well with slang no one could have anticipated, like "tool" as a pejorative term! Or maybe the person who pioneered the use of "tool" as an insult was equally rhyme-conscious? Either way, how lucky we were to have these amateur Frosts in our midst.

What does this all mean? Not much, I suppose. It's just intriguing how the cosmos played out with regards to language and how easily things could have been different. A little something to chew on the next time Bon Jovi rhymes "fight" with "right" for (seemingly) the one trillionth time.

Later, amphibious reptiles.