Or Should That Be Nursery Rhythm?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!
For today, the origin of this piece is not our concern. What we are considering is the use of the words Rhyme and Rhythm.
And good old Humpty is helping us in that task.
The reason for the question at the start of this paragraph is that, well, the words rhythm and rhyme are actually the same word by way of their derivation. “How can that be?” I hear you ask!
Both words originate in the Greek word “rhuthmos”, meaning ‘flow’ but rhythm became more associated with the Anglo-Saxon ‘riman’ which means ‘count’. So, rhythm is the count or beat in a phrase, whether spoken or musical.
Dance, especially the Tango, has great rhythmicity.
And, did you know, that in Scrabble Rhythm has the potential to earn 51 points without even using a single vowel!
Today, of course, we think of rhyme as two or more words that sound the same. ‘Wall’ and ‘hall’; ‘men’ and ‘again’ in Humpty’s example above.
An alternative (please note, not ‘alternate’ which means to occur repeatedly in turn) spelling to Rhyme was Rime, as in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, a poem written in 1797 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
I use the past tense here as Rime is rarely used today.
There is also a saying “Neither Rhyme nor Reason” which I find interesting in that the word rhyme, here, is used in the sense of entertainment while reason implies the notion of serious teaching. So the idiom tells us that the subject is not fit for either amusement or learning.
In the county of Yorkshire, England, Rime is a colloquialism for Hoar-frost!
Rhyming slang is most associated with the Cockney (i.e. East End of London) underworld of the 19th Century where it was allegedly used to thwart non-criminals’ attempts to overhear what was being discussed by those dastardly villains.
Examples are: Frog and Toad = Road; Apples and Pears = Stairs
Daisies are boots, from ‘daisy roots’ (!)
And so on.
The slang, although belonging to past times, is still in use today, kept alive by such TV programmes as The Sweeney – itself a great example of rhyming slang.