A–Z of linguistics in rhyming couplets

Here’s a self-explanatory bit of silliness from Twitter yesterday. There were requests to assemble it somewhere, for convenience and posterity, so I thought I’d reproduce it on Sentence first.

I’ve replaced the quotation marks I used on Twitter with italics; other than that it’s identical. The tweets are all linked, so you can also read them by clicking on the date of this introductory one:



A is for ARBITRARY: a sound’s tie to meaning.
B is for BACK-FORMED, like dry-clean from dry-cleaning.

It is CLEFT that C is for, the clause now divided.
D is for DESCRIPTIVISM, objectively guided.

E is for ETYMON, whose etymon is Greek.
F is for FRONT, like the vowels in sneak peek.

G is for GRIMM’S LAW, a pattern of sound shifts.
H is for HIGH-RISING TERMINAL, where sentence pitch lifts?

I is for INFIX, edumacational or sweary.
J is for JUNCTURE: I, Mary? I’m airy.

K is for KINSHIP terms: uncles and aunts.
L is for LEXICOGRAPHY, drudgery’s romance.

M is for METATHESIS – how brid became bird.
N is for NONSENSE: sleep furiously, green word!

O is for ONOMASIOLOGY, obsessing Roget.
P is for PHONOTACTICS: possible sounds in what we say.

Q is for QUESTION TAG – self-explanatory, isn’t it?
R is for REDUNDANCY, which you need not omit.

S is for SCHWA, the scourge of spelling bees.
T is for TRIPHTHONG, when vowels come in threes.

U is for USAGE: how we use language.
V is for VARIANT, like saying hang sangwich.

W is for WUG and its mythical plural.
X is for XENOGLOSSY: another myth, this one neural.

Y is for YOD-DROPPING – have you heard the nooz?
Z is for ZERO-DERIVATION, a neologist’s enthuse.


Thoughts and observations are welcome in the comments – as are alternative couplets if you take I for INSPIRATION.


GH Halceon has recorded a very charming reading of this, which you can hear on his blog.

The A–Z has been featured on the linguistic blogs Superlinguo, All Things Linguistic, and Sprachlog.


18 Responses to A–Z of linguistics in rhyming couplets

  1. scarlettmorrison10 says:

    Love this! I did a module on linguistics in my first semester of university and it’s relieving to see that I still remember what some of these things mean!

  2. astraya says:

    Aunts and romance don’t rhyme in my idiolect. Do they in yours, or are you cutting yourself some slack? A Facebook friend of mine (an USAn living in Australia) posted the results of an online quiz ‘Can we guess what region you’re from based on your vocabulary?’, which seemed to be more about pronunciation, at least the first question, which I failed. It was, “What word does ‘aunt’ rhyme with?’ – ‘flaunt’ or ‘rant'”. No option for ‘something else’.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Yes, they rhyme in my dialect. If they didn’t, I’d have made a different couplet. So Romance and Rome aunts are almost homophonic for me, if I make allowances for stress and juncture.

      Online language quizzes are usually so constrained, so black-and-white, as to be useless and annoying, unless they’ve been created by someone with a linguistics background.

      • astraya says:

        Do you use /a/ or /æ/ or anything else? I use /æ/ for ‘romance’ but /a/ for ‘aunt’. Actually, my low front vowels are inconsistent. I spent my childhood in Victoria, where /æ/ is more common (but not in ‘aunt’; in words like ‘castle’, ‘grant’, ‘graph’, ‘answer’) and my teen years in South Australia, where /a/ is more common. Castlemaine, Victoria, has /æ/, but Newcastle, New South Wales, has /a/.
        I’m not aware of any variety of English which rhymes ‘aunt’ with ‘flaunt’.

      • Stan Carey says:

        I use /æ/. I’ve heard UK accents that said aunt quite close to rhyming with flaunt, but my ear may have exaggerated the similarity since the vowel was so different from my own.

      • John Cowan says:

        In Huddersfield dialect, at least as it was once spoken, the native word for ‘aunt’ was /nɒnt/, with a parasitic /n/ as in nuncle, whereas [ænt] was borrowed from Standard English (with a non-BATH accent).

      • Stan Carey says:

        I didn’t know that, John. While watching tennis with my nephew recently I was telling him about numpires (and naprons, etc.). I realise it’s not the same, since their n’s were there originally, but still.

  3. fealthepoet says:

    man ,you brew up ideas in the soil of my head all the time…keep up.

  4. […] Last week Stan Carey, editor and blogger, gave us his A-to-Z of linguistics. […]

  5. […] Stan Carey, “A-Z of linguistics in rhyming couplet,” Sentence First (Carey’s Blog) and Carey’s Twitter
    Linguists are funny. :) […]

  6. It’s lucky as an Irishman you have “hang sangwich” to rhyme with “language”, though as a Londoner, for me the last syllable in “sandwich” rhyme with “witch”, not “bridge” – and “romance” doesn’t rhyme with “aunts”, either, they have different vowels, as do “pants” and “plants”.

    • Stan Carey says:

      I counted my blessings with that one, Martyn, so few are language‘s close rhymes. Bernard Share’s entry for the phrase in Slanguage, his dictionary of colloquial Irish English, describes it as imitative of Dublin pronunciation and cites Terry Wogan, of all people, using it in a quote in the Irish Times.
      Romance/aunts is another dead giveaway of my accent, unless there are others I don’t know about in which the two words rhyme.

  7. […] [Previously: A to Z of linguistics in rhyming couplets.] […]

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