Tweetle Poodles and Beetle Noodles
Posted by Neal on January 23, 2005
Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite books to read to Doug and Adam. Adam likes repeating the “goo goose” section, and after Doug had mastered his /l/ phoneme, I recorded him reciting the “Luke Luck likes lakes” bit. But my favorite part is the “tweetle beetle” bit at the end. I’ve had a question about it for a while, though, and I’m going to settle it right here and now.
OK, so the segment starts like this:
When tweetle beetles fight, it’s called a
[[tweetle beetle] battle].
So far, so good. I can follow the compounding. Next:
And when they battle in a puddle, it’s a
[[tweetle beetle] [puddle battle]].
We’re still good. Now we come to:
And when tweetle beetles battle with paddles in a puddle, they call it a
[[tweetle beetle] [puddle [paddle battle]]].
Now we turn the page and come to:
When beetles battle beetles in a puddle paddle battle and the beetle battle puddle is a puddle in a bottle, they call this a
[[[bottle puddle] [paddle battle]] muddle]]
And turning the page again, we learn that:
When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles, they call this a
muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle.
That line always trips me up, and I’ve suspected that it wasn’t just due to the extra length of the compound, but I couldn’t sit there and parse it out with the boys waiting for me to finish the book. I’m parsing it out now, though, and I see that I’m right: Dr. Seuss’s syntax is wrong. Now that I think about it, it’s pretty obvious, with the separating of tweetle from beetle and poodle from noodle. (Can I say, “Now that I think about it, it’s pretty obvious,” or is that a contradiction?) I think what Dr. Seuss actually meant was:
[[bottle puddle] [paddle battle]]
This would have fit just as well as the actual phrase Dr. Seuss used, so I wonder why he didn’t use it. Was it to show that even Mr. Fox himself (the speaker) got confused sometimes? Was it just for the fun of creating a cross-serial dependency with tweetle, beetle, poodle, and noodle?