Poss. Ety. of "twink" [Was Re: Theriomorphism in a Los Angeles Gay Community]

Sat Feb 13 07:36:54 UTC 2010

> From: Jonathan Lighter

> The drunken rhyme may be relevant to the etymology of
> _twink_ ...

I almost passed over the poem Jon presented us with, and probably would have done if it hadn't been for someone characterising it as "doggerel".  I always get just a *tiny bit suspicious when the word "doggerel" is used, as it's such a sweep-it-under-the-carpet word, and all too often means the person reading the text either can't understand the rhythm, or the meaning, or both.

So let's see.  "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, / How I wonder what you are" -- nice, straightforward trochiac octameter couplet.  And at the very least, the author of the parody perfectly captures the rhythm:

       Starkle, starkle little twink,
       Who the hell you are I think.

The first line is a simple transform: twinkle ... star => starkle ... twink

But the second line turns on a double transform:

How I wonder what you are
   => Who the hell do you think you are?
      => Who the hell you are I think

.... and it's a transform that concludes with an echo of possibly the most famous first line of any poem written in America in the previous 20 years (counting back from the mid-40s): "Whose woods these are I think I know."

       I'm not under the alcofluence of incohol.       [corrected]
       I'm not as drunk as some thinkle peep I am

  => I'm not as drunk as some people think

But "thinkle peep I am" -- now, *that's weird, the intrusion of (apparent) nonsense into  an otherwise syntactically correct phrase.  It works, beautifully, but I'm not sure why.  Maybe because it's a deep echo of a phrase in Henryson's 'Uponlondis Mus and Burgis Mus' -- "Cry peep anis to me."

       And besides, I've only had tea martoonies,
       And anyway, I've all day sober to Sunday up in.

"tea martoonies" from "two matinis" is rather neat, I'd say, but it's the final line which caps it.  Ends with a bang, doesn't it? "Sunday up in" is that more than occasional intrusion into an iambic line, a Lesser Ionic Ascending Foot.  ( X X / /, only to be used in moderation as a substitution for two iambic feet, simply *because it has such a rhythmic punch.)

I was more than a little sceptical initially about Jon's suggestion that there was a gay dimension to the poem, but let's engage in a bit of speculative profiling here.

Who in America in the 1940s was involved in the gay community, liked parodies and on occasion produced variants of traditional English poems, had a documented interest in light verse, produced coded gay poems under his own name and more overtly gay poems anonymously, was fascinated by English metrics in all its varieties, and would be absolutely certain to be familiar with Frost's "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening"?  And was familiar with Robert Henryson's _Fables_.  (He was also notorious for drinking more martinis than he otterto have done.)

Why, of course -- the lines to which Jon has drawn our attention were written by the author of "A Platonic Blow"!


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