The Longest Now


Concordant Chaos: the tricky tongue-twister by Gerard Trenité
Tuesday November 23rd 2004, 3:04 am
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Dearest Creature in Creation v.94 (2017)

This is a synthesis of variants of a delicious spelling poem, titled variously “The Chaos” and “Dearest creature in creation“, by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946).  It was revised often by Trenité, with no clear final version. Trenité collected interesting words and would fit them in over the years; first into a line or couplet, then fitting that into a verse, then changing its order as part of the whole. Filler text (connecting the tricky words into paragraphs) was often changed.

I started with the composite version from the English Spelling Society in 1994, and incorporated bits from other versions, to include as many of his examples as possible. (that version went offline in 2013; glad to have archived it!)

I’ve split the poem into four sections. Line numbers of many versions agree closely up to verse 18, and are included.  Early versions consist of just these and the closing stanzas in C (which was also rarely changed).  Sections A and B tend to appear in some form in later versions, but vary in order and composition.
In places, I’ve tweaked filler text for scansion, and chosen variants with good scansion where possible. For details of selection choices, see the updates and comments.

Prepare your tongue, and read it out loud!

Updates

  • C. Scott encoded a this poem in a khipu conlang. I am studding-sailed.
  • Oct 2012: Suggestions incorporated. Thanks for pointers to other versions.
  • May 2015: Removed ‘Psyche’ filler lines, leaving two long stanzas in C.
  • March 2017: Minor scansion changes, notes.  Removed confusing parts of A + B with mainly British names + archaic pronunciations.
  • May 2017: Major revision. Reduced C to the stable closing stanzas + moved the rest to B.  The core poem is now cleanly the first 18 verses + C.  Changed order of A + B after looking at more versions, included a few new word variants. Format.  Cleaned up the last underlined text.

Key
  Italics – words whose pronunciation and spelling are contrasted.
  Bold  – pronunciation is archaic, British, naval, or varies by dialect
  <!–   –>    – pronunciation guide for a nearby bold word
Underline – filler text that varies by version & doesn’t quite fit

The Chaos
Gerard Nolst Trenité

1
Dearest creature in creation
Learning English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

2
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!   10
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say–said, pay–paid, laid but plaid.

3
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,  20

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,  <!– stunsull –>
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

4
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, reviles.          <!– tossulls –>

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
And examining, but mining,   30
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

5
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Admirable, desirable; admire, desire.    <!– brome –>
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone.

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind
Beau, queue, kindred, but mankind.   40

6
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois leather,
reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?

7
Billet does not end like ballet;
Wallet, mallet; bouquet, chalet.   50
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,

8
Ricocheted, crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.   60

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats says it rhymes with Thalia.
Hugh but hug, and hood but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.

9
Say abscission with precision,
then position and transition.
Corral, rally, rhythm, rhyme,
Diaphragm, stigma, paradigm.

Twopence, threepence.  Tease is easy,
But lease, please, cease, grease and greasy? 70
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Bier, rabies, lullabies.

10
Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure.  Sheik
Sounds not like Czech or chic, but ache.  80

11
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice.

12
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.    90
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it“.
And it can be hard to spell        <!– pell mell –>
When we say pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

13
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.    100

Ivy, privy, famous. Clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, dross, address.

14
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.  <!–  Kyper –>

Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“,  110
Making, it is sad but true,
Of bravado, much ado.

15
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.         <!– guzberry –>
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.   120

16
Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind: meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I’ll bet a pretty penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.

17
Arch, archangel.  Pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?  130
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove.

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (unlike piebald) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Psychic, lien, shone, bone, pshaw!

18
Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.   140  <!– bullin –>

Say in sounds correct and sterling:
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,                        <!– metzo –>
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

A1
Now recite in accent pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
<!– woosted –>

Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.
The TH will surely trouble you
More than R, CH or W.

A2
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em.

Shoes, goes, does.  Singer but finger,
ginger, lingerie and linger.
Real and zeal; mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.

A3
Hero, heron, query, very

Parry, tarry, fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth.
job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste; Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut; granite
, and unite.

A4
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late.
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

A5
Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it.
Bona fide, alibi,
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

A6
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally, ally; yea and ye.
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess! — it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

A7
Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Large but target; gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging.
Ear, hear, earn; but ere and bear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.

B1
Now try trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, scheme.

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured: flighty.
Episodes, antipodes;
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

B2
Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, torque, cork, and work.

B3
Mind the O of off and often,
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce,
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross;

A of valour, vapid, vapour;
S of news and of newspaper;
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist;
I of antichrist and grist:

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, polish, poll and poll.

C
Pronunciation is a tunnel
Strewn with stones like solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight;
Housewife; verdict and indict.    <!– husif –>

Don’t you think so, reader, rather 
Saying lather, bather, father 
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying ‘grits’?

Finally, which rhymes with enough:
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough
Hiccough has the sound of ‘sup’…
My advice is:  Give it up!




This is brilliant! Bennet Cerf, Edward Lear, and Gilbert (of G&S)
would be proud of you!

Comment by David Kendall 11.13.08 @ 3:15 pm

Wow! That’s crazy cool.

Comment by Cinnamon 11.13.08 @ 11:33 pm

When I was studying khipu, I invented a khipu-writing system based on phonetic English, to show that it is indeed possible to encode language in a form which looks similar to the khipu examples which have survived in museums. Since the text was written in (encoded) phonetic English, the text I chose to encode was, naturally: this poem. The generated khipu is at http://cscott.net/CSA107A.pdf

Comment by C. Scott Ananian 12.09.08 @ 7:03 pm

Now I have to learn your language to find out how you have your khipu pronouncing some of the bolded sections herein.

Comment by metasj 12.09.08 @ 10:35 pm

[…] long now — something along the lines of my older post on the perils of English pronunciation, Concordant Chaos.  If you have a few moments, both are worth a read.  See also the Language Log for ling. Share […]

Pingback by » Linguistic diversions SJ’s Longest Now 04.19.10 @ 9:14 pm

Very cool. Judging by the lack of comments, I can only deduce that most readers were stupefied by this brilliant mastery of wordsmithing!

Comment by Nick Edelstein 06.13.10 @ 4:45 am

Glad you like it, Nick! I’ve cleaned this latest version up a bit, removing some of the parts that few people would know how to pronounce. There are still a few parts that feel arbitrary or don’t quite scan… highlighted in the text.

Segments that are a bit awkward in scan or grammar are underlined:

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight — you see it

A few segments that feel random are left out altogether :

Had this invalid invalid,
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony
Lighten your anxiety.

Later removed from A:

A2
The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight — you see it;
With and forthwith: one has voice,
One has not. You make your choice.

A4
Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
bowing, Bowing, Bowdoin, tuners
Holm you know — but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?     

Later removed from B:

B1
Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming well with doors and yours.

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Such as Maughan, Vaughan and Strachan.

B2
While the name may look quite comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.  
No. And Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

Gill, gill, argil, argyle. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh.
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.  

Comment by metasj 06.13.10 @ 2:13 pm





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