case choice by rhyme

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Aug 19 05:55:26 UTC 2005

On Thu, 11 Aug 2005 15:48:40 -0700, Arnold M. Zwicky
<zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:

>the exigencies of rhyme often result in choices for pronoun case that
>are quite alien to the people who say, or sing, the rhymes, as in the
>popular song cited by michael quinion on p. 155 of his Ballyhoo,
>Buckaroo, and Spuds [the title of which irresistably reminds me of
>george carlin's "cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits", but then my
>mind travels on some strange paths]:
>Oh where oh where has my little dog gone?
>Oh where oh where can he be?
>Now sausage is good, baloney, of course.
>Oh where oh where can he be?
>They make them of dog they make them of horse,
>I think they make them of he.
>i'm sure you can think of many more examples.

Somewhat related is the rhyme-governed choice of pronouns that are outside
of the expected register of a verse or song. I'm thinking of the choice of
"thee" instead of "you" for obj. 2p pronoun in African-American songs from
blues to rap, where the register is clearly not liturgical. Here's an
example from Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's version of "Dust My Broom" (1949):

It's a sin and a shame
Darling, the way you treat poor me
Yes it's a sin and a shame
Lord, the way you treat poor me
You know well that I love you
And I really wouldn't mistreat thee.

And here's a hiphop example, from Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance"

My name is Humpty, pronounced with an umpty
Yo ladies, oh how I like to hump thee
And all the rappers in the top ten
Please allow me to bump thee.
I'm crazy, allow me to amaze thee
They say I'm ugly but it just don't faze me.

--Ben Zimmer

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