Rhyming Words Don’t Sound the Same
Posted by Neal on March 29, 2006
I was volunteering in Adam’s classroom today, and on the way in, I passed a teacher in the hall doing some language assessments with a student. The teacher would read one word to the student, and then present three other words, asking, “Which of these words sounds the same or rhymes?” Barney the dinosaur and the characters on Sesame Street do this, too: say that “rhyming words sound the same!”
No, rhyming words do not sound the same. And on that note, I will now add to Heidi Harley’s recently posted, most-complete-yet listing of linguistic humor from The Simpsons an item from last Sunday’s episode, which I finally got around to watching tonight. This episode was guest-written by Ricky Gervais, who also voiced one of its characters, which character sings a love song, one of whose verses goes like this:
Lady, when you go away,
I feel like I could die.
And not die like your hair is dyed,
But die like Lady Di.
And not die like her name is Di,
But die like when she died.
Marge compliments him on the song, asking how he found so many rhyming words. Heh. Ricky Gervais knows: Homophones don’t count as rhymes. And rhyming words can’t just sound similar, either, or else Homer and hammer would count as a rhyme, or Skinner and skinny.
Also, it can’t just be that the last syllable rhymes, or else insect and perfect would rhyme, too. Actually, Doug and Adam have a CD with a song about fossils on it, and it does force a rhyme out of these two words, by putting the stress on the final syllables: in-sect, per-fect Argh, that’s so annoying! And they cheat on rhymes this way in other songs, too. A song about Plesiosaurus says his body looks like “a barrel that is full,” and why? Why mention that the barrel his body resembles is full, since barrels look the same whether they’re full, empty, or in between? They did it so they could make a rhyme with the next line, which concludes with, “you look just wonder-ful.” Full and wonderful don’t rhyme! The pointless addition in the first line and the vague, treacly sentiment in the next one were chosen so as to engineer a rhyme that isn’t even a rhyme! (In case you’re wondering how to avoid buying this CD for your kids by accident, it’s this one.)
For two words (or series of words) to rhyme, the last stressed syllables have to start with different sounds (i.e. have different onsets), continue with the same vowel (i.e. have the same nucleus), and finish with the same consonant, if there is one (i.e. have the same coda). And any unstressed syllables that follow have to be completely identical. Thus, to choose a couple of rhymes from a master rhymer and close personal friend of Geoff Pullum, Aunt Hortense and importance rhyme, as do quickenin’ and strych-a-nine.
But you know, I never did have any trouble learning the concept of rhyme, even though the only definition I ever heard as a kid was probably the “words that sound the same” one, so I suppose it works for teachers to use it. Still, I wonder if any kids ever get confused by it, and have to have a more in-depth explanation in order to recognize rhymes.