Laura “Baby Name Wizard” Wattenberg is my hero

For observations like this:

Here’s a little pet peeve of mine [Wattenberg’s]: nothing rhymes with orange. You’ve heard that before, right? Orange is famous for its rhymelessness. There’s even a comic strip called “Rhymes with Orange.” Fine then, let me ask you something. What the heck rhymes with purple?

She continues, reasonably enough:

If you stop and think about it, you’ll find that English is jam-packed with rhymeless common words. What rhymes with empty, or olive, or silver, or circle? You can even find plenty of one-syllable words like wolf, bulb, and beige. Yet orange somehow became notorious for its rhymelessness, with the curious result that people now assume its status is unique.


27 thoughts on “Laura “Baby Name Wizard” Wattenberg is my hero

  1. @Alan Thiesen,

    When I click on your recommended website I get:

    Warning: pg_query() []: Query failed: ERROR: invalid input syntax for integer: "1820677." in /var/www/vhosts/ on line 193

  2. "Beige" has a softer sound; it's pure ʒ, like the "s" in "vision". All the other words you list have a harder combined sound, dʒ.

    Incidentally, Wiktionary lists "greige" as a rhyme for "beige".

  3. Incidentally, I never heard another person pronounce the word "Bayesian" until last year — I only ever read it. I thought it would be pronounced "bayes'ian", but apparently it's "beige'an". Can I get some expert verification on that?

  4. Hirple rhymes with purple. It's a real word, though obscure.

    Larry "Bud" Melman once appeared on David Letterman's show and read a poem, something about "blah blah blah nothing rhymes with orange / now put some oil on that squeaky door-hinge."

    It is indeed interesting to note that the parameter space of simple sounds is not full in English. I might have expected that every easily pronounceable two-syllable sound would be in use. Why have a word like, I dunno, "alcohol," when it could have been "milver" or "pollive." Would you like an olive with your pollive?

  5. Good comments all, but I think she's got youall with "purple."

    Regarding ambiguous sounds, I remember being upset in elementary schol to learn that the dictionary assigned the same sound–the same symbol in the phonetic alphabet–to the vowel sounds in "horse" and "wall." Which, to my mind, was obviously wrong: "wall" has the same vowel sound as "hoss," not "horse," at least in my dialect.

    To answer Corey's question: I say "bayes'ian" but I've heard "beige'an" also. I think of the latter version as being more English (as compared to American) but I'm not sure.

    Along the same lines, I've always pronounced Poisson (as in the distribution) the French way, but I've also heard "Poissone" (with a long o sound at the end) and have even heard it pronounced identical to Poison except with an s rather than a z sound in the middle. The guy who did this was well educated (of course–who else would be talking about the Poisson distribution in the first place) and I could never figure out whether he pronounced Poisson in this unusual way from ignorance or from some sort of reverse snobbery in which he didn't think it was right to go around parading his exotic knowledge by saying words in French.

  6. Phil: I think there is an older reference. Arlo Guthrie used "door-hinge" as a rhyme on the Smothers Brothers show in the late sixties IIRC.

  7. Robert, there is nothing new under the sun.

    Although, logically _somebody_ had to be the first. So, OK, maybe there is something new under the sun every now and then.

  8. It seems there's a substantial difference in how Britons and Americans pronounce orange. OED gives, albeit with a bar on the ı:

    Brit. 'ɒrın(d)ʒ
    U.S. 'ɔr(ə)ndʒ

    Americans are so weird lah!

  9. What might rhyme with various words depends very heavily on how you say them.

    Pronunciation can differ quite strongly across countries and even within them.

  10. I think you're right — I probably wouldn't even notice if someone said "assuage" with a ʒ instead of a dʒ. Nevertheless, that pronunciation isn't listed in Wiktionary, and I don't have access to the OED to check there, so it might not be a common variant (yet?).

  11. Andrew,

    As Phil said, hirple (meaning to walk with a limp) rhymes with purple, and so does curple (the rump of a horse, or the strap that holds a saddle in place).

  12. To me, hirple and curple don't count as words. Although, I guess that, to a cowboy, hirple and curple are a lot more important than the Gibbs sampler and the Metropolis algorithm. It all depends on your perspective.

  13. To find a rhyme for silver
       (or any "rhymeless rhyme")
    Requires only will, ver-
       bosity and time.

    I think that's by W.R. Espy, but I wouldn't swear to it.

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