Monday 14 February 2011

rhymes for “love”

There’s a Project Gutenberg ebook compilation called A Wodehouse Miscellany. It comprises some twenty short articles and stories by the humorist P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975). The publication dates of the individual components are not always stated, but the compilation itself dates only from 2003.

Anyhow, one of the articles is entitled ‘On the writing of lyrics’. Here’s an excerpt.
“Love” rhymes with “dove”, “glove”, “above” and “shove”. It is true that poets who print their stuff instead of having it sung take a mean advantage by ringing in words like “prove” and “move”; but the lyricist is not allowed to do that. This is the wretched unfairness of the lyricist’s lot. The language gets him both ways. It won’t let him rhyme “love” with “move”, and it won’t let him rhyme “maternal” with “colonel”. If he tries the first course, he is told that the rhyme, though all right for the eye, is wrong for the ear. If he tries the second course, they say that the rhyme, though more or less ninety-nine percent pure for the ear, falls short when tested by eye. And, when he is driven back on one of the regular, guaranteed rhymes, he is taunted with triteness of phrase.

No lyricist wants to keep linking “love” with “skies above” and “turtle dove”, but what can he do? You can’t do a thing with “shove”; and “glove” is one of those aloof words which are not good mixers. And — mark the brutality of the thing — there is no word you can substitute for “love”. It is just as if they did it on purpose.

If only phoneticians (such as yours truly) could write about ear rhymes and eye rhymes in such an entertaining way!

Wodehouse was of course English, and speakers of BrE will nod their heads in agreement with what he says here. But Americans may be a little surprised. In AmE there is another word, a very frequent one, that lyricists can use as a rhyme for love: the strong form of the preposition of. In BrE this is pronounced ɒv (with the LOT vowel), so is not a suitable rhyme, but in AmE it is predominantly ʌv (with the STRUT vowel; some prefer to write it əv). Voilà!

Presumably this STRUT-vowel pronunciation arose as a restressing of the weak form əv.

Despite living for many years in the US, Wodehouse seems not to have noticed how (most) Americans say of.

As far as I know, ʌv (STRUT) is unknown in BrE. Conversely, though, there seem to be some Americans who say ɑv (LOT), but how many they are, and whether they have some distinguishing social or regional characteristic, I do not know.


  1. See her on the bridge at midnight
    Saying farewell to blighted love
    There's a leap, a splash, oh horrors!
    What is she a-doin' of?

    It's the same the whole world over
    It's the poor what gets the blame
    It's the rich what gets the pleasure
    Ain't it all a bleedin' shame?

  2. I've never seen that version before. Cf this, this, this, and this.

  3. It's funny that the third version has f*** and c***, but forgot the nowadays obscure "quim" :).

  4. 'Colonel' and 'maternal' will also not rhyme in American English.

  5. As a American 'true' rhyme, it can be magnificent:

    I can't give you anything but love, baby
    That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby

    I can't say it's ever grated on my British ears.

  6. Aren't ʌv and əv simply the same in many American accents?

  7. Martin J Ball - that's interesting, why don't they rhyme in AmE? I would have guessed ˈkɜrnəl and məˈtɜrnəl. Is one of them more schwa-like than the other?

  8. "...but how many they are, and whether they have some distinguishing social or regional characteristic, I do not know."

    Their distinguishing regional characteristic is that they are Southerners.

  9. And here's one that Wodehouse 'couldn't do a thing with'

    On my own,
    Would I wander through this wonderland alone
    Never knowing my right foot from my left
    My hat from my glove
    I'm too misty, and too much in love

  10. Leo, I think colonel is a rhotically rare case of r-free ɜ.

  11. This song Little Colonel is associated with Shirley Temple (one of her films, I believe), so it's presumably American:

    You sure started sump'in when you dumped your kiddie cart,
    Toys and dolls are scattered ev'rywhere.
    Peck o' mischief,
    don't know why I always take your part,
    Sweet infernal,
    little colonel curly head
    curly head.

  12. I've never heard anything but ˈkɜrnəl or ˈkɝːnl etc from an AmE speaker, and that's all LPD has for it, adding (= kernel) for good measure. The online AmE or biglossic dictionaries seem to agree. I can't imagine r-free ɜ in AmE.

  13. David's version of 'She was poor but she was honest' is the only one I have ever come across. I'm not sure John is serious about the versions he links to. "What is she a-doin' of?" gets c 4350 google hits (which as far as I have bothered to look are all versions of 'She was poor but she was honest'), including online versions of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, tho my 1981 edition doesn't seem to have it.

  14. And this from My Fair Lady

    You want to talk of Keats or Milton, she only wants to talk of love
    You go to see a play or ballet, and spend it searching for her glove

  15. Leonard Cohen (Canadian) in his song
    Dance me to the end of love rhymed love with dove, above, of and glove consecutively. Apparently he couldn't find any use for shove.
    It seems like Shakespeare had an easier job, being able to compose this couplet (Sonnet 116):
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

    According to David Crystal, both words ended with -ɤv, so it was a perfect rhyme.

  16. It took a bit of finding, but this from The Grateful Dead

    When push comes to shove, when push comes to shove,
    You're afraid of love, when push comes to shove.

  17. I said "I can't imagine r-free ɜ in AmE."

    Duh! The word lɜːv itself! I meant of course I couldn't imagine anything rhotic having an r-free ɜ option, at any rate in opposition (or even non-rhyme) with a rhotic ɝ. But if AmE ˈkwɔːrt̬r, ˈkɔːrt̬r can get dissimilated to ˈkwɔːt̬r, ˈkɔːt̬r, who can say what might happen to 'squirter'.

  18. Ooops - that's what happens when you post at 3.46am (CST)!
    Of course, colonel and maternal do rhyme...!!

  19. Huh, AFAIK in GenAm NURSE is not phonemically different from STRUT + /r/ (e.g. furry rhymes with hurry), though there might be an allophonic difference in vowel qualities.

  20. A pre-consonantal /ɹ/ can get dissimilated (dropped) if another /ɹ/ is present in a neighboring (usually following) syllable, just like in quarter, but unlike in colonel. But that doesn't effect the quality of the vowel: an r-less 'quarter' won't sound like "quawter" in AmE, as this latter would have a lot more opener vowel, even [ɑ] for a cot-cought merger.

    As for NURSE (/ɜːɹ/), which is always stressed, it is often realized as [əːɹ] or just a syllabic [ɹ̩] in AmE – it quite rarely gets articulated as open as BrE [ɜː]. But when syllabic, it is the nucleus of the stressed syllable, so unlikely to get dropped, as in squirter, but it can become rhotacized [ɚː] or occasionally vocalic [əː]. An unstressed /əɹ/ is more likely to get dissimilated close to another /ɹ/, like in governor.

    Many people misbelieve that STRUT (/ʌ/) is pronounced [ɜː] in AmE as if the realizations of the two phonemes had merged (bird-bud), but that's not the case. Though /ʌ/ can have a more centralized articulation, closer to [ɜ], it is usually less centralized and less open than its BrE equivalent of [ɐ], so phonetically it is quite distinct from the syllabic or closer realizations of /ɜːɹ/. But even if they were identical in quality, they'd still be different in length.

    So a dissimilated 'curver' doesn't sound like 'cover'.

  21. I don't have STRUT or LOT in stressed of. I seem to use some variety of [ɔ] in it (but that's not my THOUGHT vowel; I have THOUGHT merged with LOT as [ɒ]). I'm not quite sure how that vowel got there, so I assume being a function word has something to do with it. I think I use the same vowel in because?

    By the way, the song "I Miss the Music", from the musical Curtains, begins with a short verse on the difficulty of writing non-trite lyrics:

    Don't talk about love
    Or you'll have to say "fits like a glove"
    Or "As certain as push comes to shove"
    You will pine for the woman you're constantly thinking of.

  22. why doesn't maternal rhyme with colonel? Colonel sounds like kernel, doesn't it?

  23. Please not another Anonymous or even Onymous who doesn’t read previous posts.

    army and teardrop, you obviously have, but I think the font or the stylesheet may have misled you, or even the IPA with its fiddly r-colouring tittle. No one has said GenAm NURSE is phonemically different from STRUT + /r/, though my use of both ɜ and ɝ with the near-invisible tittle might have suggested such a difference if they had been in solidi, but they are not, and the ɝ with tittle in LPD is typical of its relatively narrow transcription. Personally I don't think it's even phonemically different from commA + /r/, because how would you propose to refute the hypothesis that STRUT and COMMA are the same phoneme with as you say an allophonic difference in vowel qualities? That is purely positionally determined, and so marginal as not to be worth arguing about, as JW and Lipman imply by "ʌv (with the STRUT vowel; some prefer to write it əv)" and "Aren't ʌv and əv simply the same in many American accents?" I would be deliriously happy with /r/ alone for your syllabic [ɹ̩] NURSE, teardrop, or for that matter for [ɝ], whatever their length, provided it is marked as nuclear where that would be ambiguous, as in e.g. /ˈsp_r_ət/ for spirit, but not really /mrr/ for mirror.

    I certainly don't believe "that STRUT (/ʌ/) is pronounced [ɜː] in AmE as if the realizations of the two phonemes had merged (bird-bud)". I was just guying the pronunciation lɜːv in pop songs etc, as does the spelling 'lurve' current on this side of the Pond for that pronunciation. I think it was even before that spelling was current that JW was spelling it 'lerve', and in my last post I was just taking his lead in identifying that as the only sort of situation in which GenAm might indeed have ɜː.

    Thanks for the clarification of the dissimilation in 'quarter'. Don’t know why you have ɹ in the solidi instead of r, though. And in fact I wouldn’t say it was exactly "dropped" if its non-articulation doesn't affect the quality of the vowel: the dissimilation is just a realizational matter in phonetics if the r is still doing its phonological stuff.

  24. If you don't like my /ˈsp_r_ət/ for spirit or /mrr/ for mirror, you can call me a /st_r_r/.

  25. Tho I would prefer /strr/, since I don't think /str_r_/ [strɹ̩] would be a phonological possibility.

  26. /ʌ/ sound is pronounced:

    between [ɜ ] and [ɐ ] in American English.

    [ɐ ] is more common on the West Coast;

    [ɜ ] is more common in Midwest

    very low/open pronunciation: [ä] is typical of accented Pittsburghese, and very high/close pronunciation [ɘ] is Southern.

    British people hear the American pronunciation of LOVE as LURVE, so your best bet is [ɜ ] .

    In American English, STRUT vowel and LOT vowels are never the same, in Pittsburgh, as in Cockney STRUT has [ä] while LOT has [ɒ]: sucks [säks] ~ socks [sɒks]. In General American: sucks [sɜks] ~ socks [sɑks]. In Arizona, CUT has [ɐ ], and COT/CAUGHT have [ä].

    In RP, the STRUT vowel is [ɐ ], but some people use the older form [ɜ ] which is considered refined. I don't recommend the [ä] pronunciation (Spanish/Italian A) although it's normal in suburban London accents (Estuary and Cockney) and it's the norm in Australian English.

    ---from ANAE (by prof. Labov)---------------------------------------------

    Mean F1 of the stressed vowel in ''study, mother, bud, just by dialect'':

    Eastern New England--768
    Atlantic Provinces------746
    Western New England-728
    Boston----------------- 727
    St. Louis---------------726
    Western Pennsylvania-725
    Middle Atlantic---------721
    Inland North------------706
    Texas South------------673
    Inland South-----------664

    Mean values of low vowels for 20 dialects. PI = Pittsburgh; WPA = Western Pennsylvania; CA = Canada; PR = Providence; S = Inland South; M = Midland; IN = Inland North.

  27. What a coincidence! A couple of hours after I read this post, I listened for the first time to the song "Lullaby of birdland": "Have you ever heard two turtle doves / Bill and coo, when they love?" and "high in the sky up above / All because were in love" :)

  28. I don't recommend the [ä] pronunciation (Spanish/Italian A) although ... it's the norm in Australian English [for STRUT].
    Is it? I know a Spaniard who said funny with (I suppose) his Spanish-/a/ sound and an Australian misunderstood him as fanny. (But that happened in Ireland, so maybe it's just that the Australian had gotten attuned to the Irish accent too much.)

  29. comment of uder to imagination prefferred solo mixed by no return no future noname exemple fanatic thriller policier expression mulder...ect...i m sorry i live in france aimai avoir une vie normal avec une femme et des enfants comme toutes personne normal...cest horrible ou vous en etes spermatozoide humains !!!! horrible!!!!

  30. There are people in the U.S. who have a NURSE-NEAR merger and say mirror, spirit with a syllabic /r/. But that is not "GenAm", the notional accent used by dictionaries. In that pronunciation, NEAR is KIT + /r/.

    In my own accent, FWIW, NEAR is FLEECE + /r/, so /spirət/, /mirər/. I do have a full-blown hurry-furry merger, untypically for the rest of my accent, so those words have syllabic /r/.

  31. I know the NURSE-NEAR merger mirror, spirit with a syllabic /r/is not "GenAm". I was talking about what it would make me deliriously happy to do with teardrop's syllabic [ɹ̩] whatever its status. The solidi are in deference to the phonological status of such a merger, if it is total. I added the example 'stirrer' in case anyone objected to that, but it's not an example that makes me as deliriously happy as the merged ones, which are a source of much merriment to the unmerged.

    Your hurry-furry merger would be perfectly OK for an example of the need to mark the nucleus in some cases but not others if we recognize the complementary distribution of NURSE and LETTER by treating them as allphones, but I really wanted an unambiguous example with both nuclear and peripheral /r/ in it, and /mrr/ with the NURSE-NEAR merger clearly is one in the absence of an initial cluster /mr-/ with prenuclear r, and so I think is /strr/ in the absence of [rɹ̩]. Of your hurry and furry /hri/ would be unambiguous but /f_r_i/ would have to be marked to obviate the interpretation [friː], since a nuclear i there would be unchecked.

  32. Back to the rhymes: a slogan to encourage condom use is "No glove, no love", and the 1955 novel Gladiator-at-Law by Frederick Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth contains the phrase "pick up a surrounded cavity and shove some love". So if you are crude enough, some of the rhymes for love become useful after all.

  33. @ Pianoman: I hear /ʌ/ as being between [ʌ] and [ɜ] (rather than between [ɜ] and [ɐ]) in my General American type accent.

  34. I just thought I'd throw in a rather well-known British example:

    You think you've lost your love.
    Well I saw her yesterday.
    It's you she's thinking of,
    And she told me what to say.

    So they obviously felt it was close enough to be usable. Clearly it doesn't actually rhyme properly in BrE (just as neither does "fair" rhyme with "her", used later in the song), but to my ear as an RP speaker the "love" / "of" mismatch still sounds a lot less jarring than the eye-rhyme with "move" etc does, e.g.:

    Thee to know, Thy power to prove, [Alleluia!]
    Thus to sing and thus to love, [Alleluia!]

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