This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Nuts and Bolts: tripping nicely.

I thought I'd write about pyrrhic feet.

The thing is, nobody loves them. (All together now: aaaah...)

In fact, some people do worse than hate them and try to deny their existence altogether.

So what are they? Well, a pyrrhic foot is a chunk of a poem where you have two weak stresses together. If you say Tennyson's line:

When the blood creeps and the nerves prick

from In Memoriam you'll find that "blood creeps" and "nerves prick" have to be said quite slowly and loudly, but "When the" and "and the" get hurried over. It's those "When the"s and "and the"s which are pyrrhic feet

See? Two weak stresses together.

Loads of people hate them. Edgar Allen Poe said:

The pyrrhic is rightfully dismissed. Its existence in either ancient or modern rhythm is purely chimerical, and the insisting on so perplexing a nonentity as a foot of two short syllables, affords, perhaps, the best evidence of the gross irrationality and subservience to authority which characterise our Prosody.

All right, all right, so he didn't think much of the system! There was no need to be quite so pompous about it, though, was there?

Anyway, without pyrrhic feet we couldn't have:

When the dog bites.
When the bee stings,
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad.

So who cares what anyone else thinks?

Word To Use Today: pyrrhic. This word comes from the Greek word purrhiknē, which is supposed to be named after the inventor of pyrrhic feet, Purrhiknos.

And good for him.

Hint for use: a pyrrhic is also a war dance, as in I think every nation should have its own official war dance. Ours should look like this.

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