vase vs. vase

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sat Mar 12 20:04:19 UTC 2005

On Sat, 12 Mar 2005 14:42:09 -0500, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU> wrote:

>And half a century later, from Frank Colby's "Take My Word For It" column:
>Los Angeles Times, Jun 5, 1942, p. 12
>Please send us a RHYMOGRAM that will teach us the correct pronunciation of
>that vexatious word VASE. -- Mrs. H.M.
>Answer: As a Rhymogram, let me quote part of a clever verse written many
>years ago by James Jeffrey Roche, in which he tells of four young ladies
>visiting an art museum. They are from Kalamazoo, New York, Philadelphia,
>and Boston, respectively. They stand admiring a rare and beautiful vase:

Aha, found the original, complete version -- from 1889! (The pronunciation
spellings given by Roche are slightly different.)

Washington Post, July 31, 1889, p. 4

The V-a-s-e.

>From the madding crowd they stood apart,
The maidens four and the Work of Art;

And none might tell from sight alone
In which had Culture ripest grown--

The Gotham Million fair to see,
The Philadelphia Pedigree,

The Boston mind of Azure hue,
Or the soulful soul from Kalamazoo--

For all loved Art in a seemly way,
With an earnest soul and a capital A.

Long they worshiped, but no one broke
The sacred stillness until up spoke

The Western one from the nameless place,
Who blushing said: "What a lovely vace!"

Over three faces a sad smile flew,
And they edged away from Kalamazoo.

But Gotham's haughty soul was stirred
To crush the stanger with one small word.

Deftly hiding reproof in praise,
She cries, "'Tis indeed a lovely vaze!"

But brief her unworthy triumph when
The lofty one from the home of Penn,

With the consciousness of two grandpapas,
Exclaims, "It is quite a lovely vahs!"

And glances round with an anxious thrill,
Awaiting the word of Beacon Hill.

But the Boston maiden smiles courteouslee,
And gently murmurs, "Oh, pardon me!

"I did not catch your remark because
I was so entranced with that charming vaws!"

--James Jeffrey Roche

(Also appeared in the Atlanta Constitution, Aug 11, 1889, p. 17, with the
attribution, "James Jeffrey Roche, in the Post-Express.")

This was apparently a famous piece of verse at the time:

Atlanta Constitution, Dec 25, 1904, p. A2
James Jeffrey Roche, author of "The Sorrows of Sap'ed," is as well known
for his verse as for his prose. His first humorous success was a poem
called "The Vase," which appeared in a New York paper twenty years ago,
and was widely read all over the country.

--Ben Zimmer

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