Poetry Wednesday: Shakespeare Made Crystal Clear

Let’s see if I remember how to do one of these . . .

I know I’ve voiced opinions about Shakespeare around here before—hard to avoid it, really—though looking at past posts, I’ve mostly just complained about how it seems like every member of the Association of Gorgeously Voiced British Actors appears to be contractually obligated to recite the same five summers-day-beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-besotted sonnets, which completely ignores the other hundred and a half.*

What’s worse, it seems to me that even when someone’s secretary accidentally transposes numbers and an AGVBA member records a surprise (#103, anyone?), it still tends to sound the same: carefully pronounced and enunciated in exactly the same sonorous, soothing way, Modern English rhyme clunkers and all.**

Yawn.

You could argue that while Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be performed to be fully understood—which is why high school students can have such a tough time slogging through a reading of Hamlet—the sonnets aren’t, unless one is pitching woo at a potential lover who has the fortitude to be the focus of a point-blank recitation of #18 without gigglesnorting  or the self-esteem to be compared, falsely or otherwise, to the subject of #130 without being vaguely insulted.***

But just as watching a performance of a Shakespearean play doesn’t magically grant understanding of every line, reading Shakespeare’s poetry silently to oneself doesn’t fix those rhyme clunkers—or solve my little ennui problem.

Luckily, linguist David Crystal and his son, actor and writer Ben Crystal, have at least a partial solution.

According to them, it’s all in the pronunciation:

How cool is that?

It doesn’t solve all the cultural references, of course but it does clear a lot of the contextual static; all those fuzzy puns and definitions, all those off-kilter rhyme schemes and scansions suddenly start harmonizing just by tuning one’s inner ear to a different key.

And to this lover of language and staunch defender of Chaucer, it’s a fascinating key.

For those language nuts among us who want to know more about of Original Pronunciation, or for those who just want to hear more of Ben Crystal’s voice in its OP register,^ he gave a terrific lecture on the subject (and in that pronunciation) a few years ago. It’s an hour and a half long, but Mr. Crystal is a wonderful speaker and likes to make his audience laugh, so it’s well worth it.

If you need a little more convincing to spend that much time on historical accents, however earthy, here’s a teaser:

I don’t know about y’all, but the next time I encounter a Shakespearean sonnet, I’m gonna read it in pirate.^^

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*Which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t welcome any member of AGVBA  to visit any time they like and recite anything they wish in my living room for as long as I can keep the doors lock and the duct tape secure they see fit.

** Sonnet #116 has several of ’em:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

***Don’t start with that one, gentlemen—it’s not as reassuring as you’ve been told it is.

^Which totally makes him eligible for the AGVBA—who’s with me?

^^Though I’m sure my favorite performance of the St. Crispin’s Day speech (Henry V) will always be in pure, unapologetic Bronx:

Poetry Wednesday: Ren Kaos, på Engelsk

There’s a poem that’s been cropping up on Facebook and in feeds and blogs lately, which is odd for something that’s about a foot long in fine print and less inspiring than frustrating.

So naturally, I investigated.

Turns out, the true title of this poem is “The Chaos”—and no wonder.  Made up of more than 800 quirks of the English language, this thing scans like a dream and drives me “Runny Babbit” insane.*

The author, Gerard Nolst Trenité, was a Dutchman who originally studied a little bit of everything in college, finally settling n a career in education. He earned his doctorate in 1901 and wrote several textbooks in several languages. For the last twenty-five years or so of his life, he contributed a regular linguistics column to an Amsterdam paper, using the pseudonym “Charivarius”**

“The Chaos” first appeared in the fourth edition of his textbook, Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen*** in 1920. The textbook went through three more editions until his death in 1946–and four more afterward—and the poem itself grew longer and longer, evolving as it went.

There are many, many different versions out there—some favoring British English, some American, and so forth—and frankly, I have no idea when this one was published, but it’s probably younger than the original, which was shorter than 200 lines.

I dare you to read it aloud all the way through without spraining something:

The Chaos
(Gerard Nolst Trenité)

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker”,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor”,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em-
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

Dr. Trenité originally placed his poem in the appendix of his book, presumably so his readers would buy the book before the final couplet rendered the whole thing moot.

Wise man.
______________________

*For those of you who don’t know Shel Silverstein’s aneurysm-inducing “Runny Babbit,” you’re going to have to go to the library and see for yourself. My kids love it, but it’s the one child-oriented poem I won’t read to them. It hurts.

**In English, “Charivarius.” Oh, well. But in French, a Charivari is a loud raucous noise. So there’s that.

***”English pronunciation exercises”

Random Thursday: Strange Sounds, Cool Bags, and Bad Puns

Random Thursday (ˈrandəm ˈTHərzdā): the day on which Sarah plunks down all the odd bits and pieces she’s been sent by friends or has otherwise stumbled upon in an effort to avoid writing a real post, the assembly of which usually ends up taking twice as much time as sitting down and creating actual content.

And here we go!

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Enough Said

Especially inside.

Inside Voices!

oooooooooooooOOOOOooooooooooooo

Wait . . . Play it Again.  Cool!

I played this for three people.  This is exactly what they said, with some variation on the last exclamation.

See what exclamations you get!

oooooooooooooOOOOOooooooooooooo

One Purse to Rule Them All

One day last week, Watson found online instructions for turning books into purses.

She thought about it for a day or so, sent me a slightly disturbing e-mail about hot glue guns, made a supply trip to the craft store and the secondhand book shop . . .
then made this:

LoTR Bag

After we all asked her for one,* we mentioned how sad it was that she had to throw away the insides of the book.

She agreed.

But a few days ago, she found this:

Shipping a book

Hmmm . . .

oooooooooooooOOOOOooooooooooooo

Has Anyone Seen my Car Keys?

Car Keys

(the titles of these posts don’t lie, people)

oooooooooooooOOOOOooooooooooooo

It’s all in the Delivery

This vid is meant to accompany James Harbeck’s  brilliant article, “A linguistic dissection of 7 annoying teenage sounds.”

So go read it.

The next time I hear one of these, I’m going to be tempted to tell Janie to put more emphasis on the glottal fricative and try it again.

Except she probably would.  In front of her grandmother.

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*I thought Sherlock Holmes for me, but considering my Bag of All Holding, Watson and my MIL thought the OED would be a better, pun totally intended, fit.  Jane asked for the dictionary, but she admitted she just wanted us to stop making her use it.