Miles Kington: Who says nothing rhymes with blarney? Ask Johnny

Rhyming is getting easier. In the days when we pronounced the letter 'R', 'quarter' did not rhyme with 'water', nor 'saw' with 'war'
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The Independent Online

Someone once told me that there was only one word in English with which no other word rhymed, and that was the word "orange". I was a child at the time and believed everything that grown-ups told me. I believed that if you cut the skin between your thumb and forefinger you would get something called lockjaw. I believed that if you ate carrots you would see better in the dark, that "antidisestablishmentarianism" was the longest word in the English language and that rugby was fun to play.

Gradually, as I emerged from the ignorant mists of childhood into the knowing sunshine of adulthood, I saw these misconceptions burn off one by one. I learnt that lockjaw was another word for tetanus, the germs for which could enter your body anywhere. I found no serious backers for the carrot theory, which was only mother's way of making you eat your vegetables. I discovered that medical dictionaries had even longer words than "antidisestablishmentarianism", though just as useless. And when I left school at 18, bruised and battered by compulsory scrums and tackling, I said to myself: "Hosanna! I will never have to play rugby again in my life!" and I never did.

But for a long time I clung on to the comforting theory that "orange" was the only word in English that had no rhyme. It seemed unlikely, but I could think of no other word that rhymed with it, nor of any other word that had no rhyme, and as it was such a quaint, implausible and maverick theory, I grew quite fond of it. I was briefly shaken by the discovery that there was a shop in London called Gorringe's, and that clearly Mr Gorringe rhymed with orange, but I promptly decided that proper names didn't count, and "orange" was in the clear again.

Rhyming is getting easier these days, of course. There are words that rhyme now that never used to. In the days when we pronounced the letter "R" properly, "quarter" did not rhyme with "water", nor "saw" with "war", but they do now. If you look up "Blarney" in a strict rhyming dictionary, you will be told that there is no word that rhymes with it, and if you sound the "r" clearly that is no doubt true, but a less strict dictionary will let you rhyme "Blarney" with "Armani" and "Azerbaijani".

Indeed, an American rhyming dictionary will let you rhyme "Blarney" with "Johnny" and "bonny". Why? Because in America they do rhyme. Why they pronounce "Johnny" as "Jarny" in America, I am not sure, but that's what they do, and while they are the most powerful nation on earth, there is little we can do about it. In any case, we have recently shortened the word "sandwich" to "sarny", so there is a rhyme for Blarney over here as well.

(I was once standing in the terminal of the Staten Island Ferry, in New York, when I saw a poster advertising cheap flights to Birmingham in England. "Fly to Birmingham!" it said. "See the castles without the hassles!". Brilliant. For someone with my Radio 4 accent, there is no way that "castle" can rhyme with "hassle", but it's a good rhyme in America, and, I guess, in many more northerly parts of England. What these castles in Birmingham are, I am not sure, but I suppose Warwick is not that far away.)

Sometimes you hear words being rhymed that you never thought to hear rhymed. I heard WH Auden's "Night Mail" being given a gallop through by Russell Davies the other day, and was grabbed by the line "Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands ..." Great. I think WH Auden would have liked "See the castles without the hassles".

But the word that definitely had no rhyme, and was not "orange", continued to elude me, until one day I was looking for a rhyme for a certain word, and discovered that it too stumped all the rhyming dictionaries. And that word ...

In an ingenious attempt to boost the paper's circulation, I shall hold that word over till tomorrow, and half a dozen others as well ...

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