Notes on rhyme (from the New Oxford Rhyming Dictionary)

I have posted a number of articles on this blog about lyric writing that include advice from famous lyricists about the use of rhyme. It is well worth checking all of the posts with the tag / keyword ‘rhyme’. This post is a short set of notes I made from reading: Lennard, John ‘Introduction (2005)’ in New Oxford Rhyming Dictionary, 2006 / 2012, OUP, ix-xxxii . My bulleted points are just my own shorthand notes working through his article. He includes excellent descriptions of different varieties of rhyme, and it is worth going to the book itself to read his Introduction.

He very usefully created a table that he called ‘The varieties of rhyme’ that I have added as a picture at the end of this post – this is well worth studying closely, and keeping as a reference tool.

  • xi 12th to 13th century, rhyme became a structural element (previously just assonance, alliteration, word lengths, parallel metres or grammar)
  • xi compared to alliteration and assonance, in rhyme “larger, grammatically significant elements of a word are likely to be involved”
  • xi rhyme and rhythm are both from Greek rhythmos and ultimately rhein ‘to flow’
  • xi “rhyme, by linking multiple syllables (usually) in distinct lines, binds much larger parcels of sense”
  • xi rhyme “helped readers or audiences to understand and remember it”
  • four kinds of rhyme:
    1. degree (full or para);
    2. type (stressed, unstressed, mosaic, eye, wrenched, embedded);
    3. position (terminal, medial, initial / auto);
    4. relation (single, cross, arch, accelerated, chain).
    5. There are also semantic, counter-semantic and thematic.
  • xvii – xviii – broad rules of thumb
    1. “the consonance of full rhyme tends to confirm sense, while the dissonance of half-rhyme tends to question or ironize sense;”
    2. “stressed rhyme tends to affirmation, and unstressed rhyme to comedy;”
    3. “medial rhymes tend to call for accelerated delivery;”
    4. “cross-rhyme marches while arch-rhyme curvets, monorhyme hammers, couplets epigrammatize, and so on.”
  • Xxi Rhymes must work not just locally (ie between two lines), but in the overall feel of a text / lyric
  • Xxi A writer who rhymes is forced to be innovative in thought and structure
  • Xxi “variation of rhyme is necessary in any extended use of a stanza-form”
  • Ottavia rima = abababcc; English royal rhyme = ababbcc
  • Xxvi insistent rhyme can be powerful, ironic, or just very clumsy
  • Xxix A regional accent in text is ok if it is authentic and consistent. [When considering which Rhyming Dictionary to use or buy, remember that American pronunciations may differ significantly from those in the United Kingdom, so books from the two countries may disagree on what counts as a true rhyme. Remember the famous quip, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”]

Table of Varieties of Rhyme

(Click on the picture below to see it full size in your browser)


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