Poets rejoice! (Maybe.)


For a while I've been worrying, in a desultory way, about how to find out, computationally, how many words in English (how many already-dictionaried words, that is) don't have rhymes. By computationally, I mean "lazily, and in a way that doesn't involve muttering under my breath."
I've been thinking what one could do (if one were slightly more motivated than I have been to date) is sort all the pronunciation transcriptions in a largish dictionary in reverse order (that is, sort them from the final character to the first character) and then look for unique strings in the final syllables. I'm sure this is probably something one (again, one slightly more ept than I) could do completely in the Terminal window with *nix tools and the right text file.
I was reminded of this nebulous maybe-someday plan yesterday while getting my son some ice cream after dinner. It was rock-hard, so we put the container in the microwave, which has a handy "soften pint" setting. "Soften /pint/," my son read, as I pushed the button. "No, it's /paInt/," I told him, and we quickly discussed (the ice cream was melting, after all) that yes, it's /mint/ and /hint/ and /flint/ and so on, but /paInt/.
Today I remembered (while looking up something completely different) to do a quick search in the OED for the string /*aInt/ in pronunciations, and hey! There is a rhyme for pint! It's rynt, a word marked "north." in the OED. One of the citations, from 1820, is "Rynt thee, is an expression used by milk-maids to a cow when she has been milked, to bid her get out of the way," and so, in less cow-specific contexts, rynt means to stand aside.
But — does rynt really rhyme with pint, in use? Rynt is also marked "refl." in the OED, which means that it's reflexive — that is, it has a reflexive pronoun as its object. You can't just rynt; you have to rynt YOURSELF, which moves the rhyme back a bit from the end of the line, unless you invert the usual order and do object-verb. I suppose a good poet could make it work; I'm not going to try … (but if anyone feels like composing a poem rhyming pint and rynt and posting it in the comments, I promise to send the best effort a copy of More Weird and Wonderful Words).
But the point of this blog post was to point out that if you have a sufficiently well-structured database, such as is available to most lexicographers (and to the paying subscribers of the OED*), you can do this kind of specific search pretty easily, and then go off and edit Wikipedia.
[*note: if you do not subscribe to the OED.com site, check your local library, which may, and which, furthermore, may let you access it through their website with your library card!]

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22 thoughts on “Poets rejoice! (Maybe.)

  1. Another possible rhyme: whyn’t (as in “Whyn’t ya whup her, Ma?” from The Grapes of Wrath). OED gives the pronunciation as /hwaɪənt/, but /waɪnt/ would seem to match the common American pronunciation. Unfortunately, like rynt, it’s hard to put at the end of a line of verse!

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  2. Just watched your TEDTalk, really enjoyed it and headed over here. My quick and dirty poem:her smile gave the hintshe had eaten my chocolate minta creamy, tasty half-eaten pinti want the rest, so thee, rynt

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  3. Ooh! One more: Jint, singular form of Jints, an old nickname for the New York (baseball) Giants (“rhymes with pints” sez Wikipedia). I posted early cites on ADS-L here, and in a followup Larry Horn wrote, “it is nice to have a rhyme for ‘pints’, without having to rely on a possible future relocation of the New Orleans pro football team to Sydney or Brisbane.”

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  4. “Jint” — okay, did you find that one by silently reciting all the possible first consonants for ‘int’? :-)And Taylor, if no one puts up anything better before next Tuesday morning, you’ve got the book …

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  5. This milking session’s much too short I’d hoped that it would yield a quart.But since yourself you wish to rynt,I’ll settle for a measly pint.

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  6. Hi Erin,Fascinating TED talk (just watched it on YouTube)! I also enjoyed today’s post.I was thinking about your proposal to use the internet to scientifically categorize words and it kind of struck a chord with me. I am sure you are aware of the way google comes up with spelling suggestions which is kind of part of the whole Web2.0 idea (which I am sure you are familiar). With web 2.0 people can tag their pictures, blogs, videos, etc with words that can then link them to other similar or related objects. I think that the idea of Web2.0 is somewhat like making every person that puts something on a web page a partial author in a giant database. If we had some sort of word search website, that can search all these tags and search all the text we could come up with quite a bit of information about a word. But I suppose, like google, it’s all in the execution. Then, if we have a way to scientifically categorize or understand words from their usage, can we also derive understanding about the sentence? A program or database that can “understand” what people write would be very useful! Then we can categorize whole blog posts, articles, and other text based on their meanings.Anyway it just seemed like you struck a chord for the evolution of the entire internet, including the dictionary :)Thanks!and ps. you have seen the Visual Thesaurus, right? I thought you would mention it but you were thinking bigger than just a visual representation of our paper dictionary.

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  7. Oh oh can I try!? —————–Into a midnight store I stumbled A list of snacks I seemed to mumbleTo the bakery aisle, moved by quickening feetI was there in a flash, no sign of retreat With cake mixes in boxes stacked high on a wallMy mind took a notice of one small downfallThough instructions were printed to show how to makeI had never learned clearly, the skill how to bake. But what could go wrong if I took a small risk?would I turn my delight into a messy iced disk?Or perhaps a seven layer ecstasy would awaitmy mind quickly weighed in on this large debate.Till another problem crept up from behind.One simple last thing to add to this bind!?Though the cake, if made right, would feel just like silkI could not enjoy a bite… for I had no milk 😦 With only enough cash for tonights tasty treatan idea crossed my mind that perhaps I could cheatI could drive to the country with one simple vowto fetch me some milk from an old farmers cow! But what if, in my plans to steal a pint freeA sly watcher shouted the words,”rynt thee!”with a gun pointed not at black and white walking beefbut to a masked man with a bucket… A damn dairy thief. My head cast down with the weight of this thoughtso much contemplation for a cake I’ve not boughtHow could I solve all these problems that now plagued my head? I walked to the freezer, and bought ice cream instead. 😀 ————–Sorry for it being a bit long… On a side note however, your TED talk was wonderful. One of the few that I send out to people and force them to watch. The idea that the book form of the dictionary could be the “simple” format is exciting really. That we could create such a large database of language, that at the same time would allow you to “stumble” onto things unintended. A merge of organic and gigantic. Yep. I like it (a lot more than any spell checker likes “rynt”).

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  8. I just saw your talk on TED.com – very interesting.Have you had any interesting proposals/suggestions that would assist you in your quest?

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  9. I like the idea of finding all the words with 0 rhymes (and 1 or 2, etc.) But I’m not sure that a subscription to the OED gives me what I need — I don’t see an easy way to extract the pronunciations for easy processing.If I just had a file with a word and its pronunciation in pairs, I could implement your algorithm in two flashes!

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  10. No poems no alternate rhymes have I, but since when did the termination of a line have to coincide with the grammatical end of something? Whatever happened to enjambment? I worry for the state of poetry in these times.

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  11. jprucher said… No poems no alternate rhymes have I, but since when did the termination of a line have to coincide with the grammatical end of something? Whatever happened to enjambment? I worry for the state of poetry in these times. 9:33 PM We’re not yet Eagle Scouts, and are mostly still working on our poetry badges 😦 Please allow us more time to work on our intergalactic enjambment skills, before you go sending these off to the poetry guild.

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  12. Mac B — I have had some offers of help, which is nice! Justin — I agree with you 100%, and that in part is what I’m working on: figuring out a way to squeeze lexical information out of the text people are writing anyway. (And yes — the Visual Thesaurus is really cool!)ReaderThinker, if you email me I can probably get you that file or a facsimile thereof … Jeff: I promise to work on my enjambment. It’s just that I keep getting stuck …

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  13. Erin just had a butchers at your TED talk (like so many others it seems). Bravura performance and great to see someone not afraid to spell discrete the way it should be. finding new words and using them is such a joy thanks for the confidence to use my dictionary (and prmopting me to start searching for new words again)

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  14. I grew up in Lancashire, about 20 miles north of Chershire, and I fancy that “rynt” may be a dialect pronunciation of “around”. But I’m no traffic cop.

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