Judy Sierra

poet and folklorist

kids+word+play

April 24, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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Bouts-rimés (boo ree MAY) is French for “rhyming ends.” This word game became popular in France in the 17th century. The rules are simple. One player makes up a set of rhyming words and challenges other players to write a bit of verse using these words as end-rhymes.

Couplets are easiest to rhyme. Begin with simple word pairs like cat/rat, goose/moose, ring/sing, or try longer words, such as:

silly/chilly
faster/disaster
bicycle/icicle
underwear/teddy bear


To make the game more challenging, combine two couplets into a quatrain. Here's a sample written by a young friend of mine:

I have a furry and calm cat
She'd rather befriend a rat
On any given day
She'll find a way to play.


In yesterday's post, I called this game "poetastic," because only a poetaster would begin writing a poem with a list of rhyming words (a non-poetaster may emphasize end-rhymes, of course).

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Word of the day

April 23, 2015

Tags: insults

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A poetaster is not someone who tastes poetry. Poetaster rhymes with disaster. Alas, a poetaster is a person who tries to be a poet, but fails. A synonym for poetaster is "rhymester "(pronunciation here).

Visit the blog tomorrow for a poetastic Word Challenge.

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Word of the day

April 22, 2015

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Lyrics are the words of a song. The word itself is from Ancient Greek--lyra--the name of a small musical instrument with strings. The ancient poet recited, sang, or read poetry while strumming the lyre. In modern terms, think folk song, rap, or karaoke. People still like to compose poetry and share their words--the lyrics--out loud to a melody or a beat.

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Word of the day

April 21, 2015

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Laureate comes from a Latin word meaning "crowned with laurels." The laurel tree was sacred to the god Apollo, and its tender leafy twigs were woven into circular crowns for important war heroes, athletes, musician, and poets. The tradition of choosing a poet laureate continues today, but without the leafy headgear.

In the U.S., a Poet Laureate is chosen each year and appointed by the Librarian of Congress. The Poet Laureate gives readings and organizes special events to make sure that poetry is an important part of everyone's life. There is even a Children's Poet Laureate.

States and cities have poets laureate, too, and so could a school, a neighborhood, or a family.

Pronunciation here.

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Word of the day

April 20, 2015

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This week, in celebration of Poetry Month, some words from the realm of the poet. Many of the English words describing how poetry is written originated thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece. Even today, some poets say that they are inspired by their Muse. Greek myth tells of nine Muses, the daughters of the god Zeus and the titaness Mnemosyne, whose name means "memory." The Muses and their domains were:

Calliope (epic poetry)
Clio (history)
Erato (lyric poetry)
Euterpe (music)
Melpomene (tragedy)
Polymnia (hymns)
Terpsichore (dance)
Thalia (comedy)
Urania (astronomy)

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April 17, 2015

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Go to the library and feast on poetry. Fill your head with words. Let the rhythms of poetry settle in your brain. There is no better time than right now. It’s National Library Week! The poetry books are in the library’s nonfiction section, in the 800’s of the Dewey Decimal System. Cruise through the 800's and you’ll find poetry in many languages. Books of jokes, riddles and tongue twisters live there, too.

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Word of the day

April 16, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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It would be pleasant to populate a poem with piranhas—those razor-toothed South American fish—but there’s a pronunciation problem.

Is it pronounced pi-RAW-nah or pi-RAW-nyah? Some dictionaries give one pronunciation, some give the other.

In verse, this only matters if you plan to put the word piranha at the end of a line. Then, you might have to decide whether to name your piranha Anna, or Anya; or whether it prefers to eat a banana, or lasagna.

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Word of the day

April 15, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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It would be so easy to write a Valentine poem about a porcupine. Porcupine rhymes with romantic words like fine, pine, divine, mine, and Valentine. But porcupines are so unhuggable! Rhymes are only based on sound, of course. It takes a poet to make sense (or nonsense) of them.

Porcupine entered the English language by way of French over 700 years ago. Around 1400, it was mentioned in a description of a banquet for King Arthur. Porke despyne was on the menu, served on platters of gold. Over the years there have been many different spellings such as porkepyne and porcupyn. Shakespeare called the animal a porpentine.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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Word of the day

April 14, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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Pity the poor poet trying to find a rhyme for penguin, because no English word rhymes exactly. In English, the ending sound for exact rhyme begins with the last stressed syllable, and so penguin (PEN-gwin) only rhymes exactly with strange-sounding made-up words like menguin or benguin.

However, just because a word has no exact rhymes doesn’t mean you can’t write rhyming poems about it. I wrote an entire book of poems about penguins, Antarctic Antics.

Some words and phrases almost-sort-of rhyme with penguin: genuine, engine, England, jump in, swimmin’. Whether any of these rhymes work or not depends upon the style, sense and sounds of that particular poem. Almost-sort-of rhymes are known as near rhymes, or slant rhymes. Most online rhyming dictionaries will let you search for near rhymes.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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Word of the day

April 13, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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The name of this bird has no exact rhyme in English. Nevertheless, the American poet Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879–1972) used creative spelling to make this rhyme,

A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belican.

Moral: Never be discouraged by the apparent lack of a rhyming word. You might come up with something surprising and memorable.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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