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Painful Rhyme / Theater

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  • Before we go any further, we must say that Shakespeare created this trope? His rhymes may work today, but that's only because he literally invented a lot of the words and phrases that are common today to justify his use of iambic pentameter. Exactly what this trope page is about. Of course, due to a few centuries of vowel shifting, many Shakespeare rhymes are less painful than they appear to modern ears. "Love" and "prove" rhymed at the time for instance, and as far as anyone can tell, neither of them sounded like they do today.
  • The Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are full of these. For all of Gilbert's skill at rhyming and willingness to use the entire range of the English language vocabulary, he was not above calling for words to be mispronounced or resorting to substandard English (e.g. "nussed" for "nursed") for the sake of rhyme:
    • In The Grand Duke, Gilbert rhymes "lowest" with "gho-est", i.e., a dead person. He hangs a lampshade on this by having the character point this out self-deprecatingly.
      When exigence of rhyme compels,
      Orthography forgoes her spells,
      And “ghost” is written “ghoest”
    • In The Pirates of Penzance, there is a song "When Frederick was a little lad", in which Ruth describes the troubles that resulted when she confused the similar-sounding words "pilot" and "pirate". They're never actually rhymed with each other, which would be really painful, but that doesn't mean the audience gets off lightly: instead, Ruth pronounces them with unnatural emphasis — "pi-lot" and "pi-rate" — with rhymes to match. (Not to mention the bit where she rhymes "what you people call work" with "maid-of-all-work".)
    • Also in The Pirates of Penzance, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" has Stanley singing:
      In short, when I've a smattering of elementary strategy... (tries to think of a word to rhyme)
      You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a-gee!note 
    Averted if Stanley does an encore of the final verse, in which he simply doesn't even try to rhyme "strategy" and instead flat-out finishes the couplet with "rode a horse".
    • Rhyming "die" with "sympathy" (an accepted, if obscure, pronunciation) is bad enough in Patience, but not as bad as when Bunthorne reprises the song in the finale ultimo:
    In that case unprecedented,
    Single I must live and die—
    I shall have to be contented
    With a tulip or lily!
    Gentle, simple-minder Usher
    Get you, if you like, to Russher!note 
    Two tender babes I nussed;
    One was of low condition,
    The other, upper crust,
    A regular patrician.
    • And...
    We're smart and sober men,
    And quite devoid of fe-ar.
    In all the Royal N,
    None are so smart as we are.
    • And...
    Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
    And you all may be rulers of the Queen's NaVEE.
    Despard: Oh innocents listen in time
    Chorus: We doe
    Despard: Avoid an existence of crime
    Chorus: Just so
    Despard: Or you'll be as ugly as I'm
    Chorus: No! No!
    Tolloller and Mountararat:
    'Neath this blow,
    worse than stab of dagger,
    though we mo-
    -mentarily stagger
    • Iolanthe also has this gem, lampshading the whole mess in the score:
    Strephon: A Shepherd I
    Chorus: A Shepherd he
    Strephon: Of Ar-ca-dye
    Chorus: Of Ar-ca-dee
    • Additionally, Iolanthe features Private Willis's famous chorus:
    I often think it's comi-cal
    That Nature always does contrive
    That ev'ry boy and ev'ry gal
    That's born into the world alive
    Is either a little liber-al
    Or else a little conserva-tyve!
    • From Princess Ida, as the three sons of the King of Hungary go into battle:
    Oh Hungary! Oh Hungary! Oh doughty sons of Hungary!
    May all success attend and bless your warlike ironmongery!
  • The Pirate Queen has several such cringers:
    I'll be there though I know that it's madness...
    (blah blah and then...)
    from the depths of my sadness
    • or
    I should be free, free to be Grace/
    So I can feel the wind on my face
  • Of Thee I Sing has the Senate of the United States slipping into Scottish dialect just to sing a rhyme:
    Jilted, jilted, jilted is she—
    Oh, what is there left but to dee?
    • Then there's this lovely bit from the patter section of "Love Is Sweeping The Country":
    Florida and Cal-
    Ifornia get together
    In a festival
    Of oranges and weather.
  • An infamous example is "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady, which rhymes "bother me" with "rah-ther be."
    • Conversely, there are several rhymes in My Fair Lady that work with an American accent but not the English accent of the character. (Rhyming "en masse" with "glass", for instance.)
      • This gets lampshaded in the song "Show Me", when Eliza Doolittle sings, "Haven't your lips/Hungered for mine?/Please don't explain/Show me!" She pronounces "Explain" as "Ex-pline", intentionally falling back on her old flower-girl accent.
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    • Alan Jay Lerner committed another one in "Come Back To Me", otherwise the best song in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever:
    Have you gone to the moon?
    Or the corner saloon
    And to rack an' to 'roon'?
    • That's qualifies as a printed (in the score) Lampshading as far as I'm concerned. ("roon" is supposed to be "ruin" of course
  • The song Dammit Janet from The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a fair number of painful rhymes, mostly involving Janet and on purpose.
    Here's the ring to prove that I'm no joker
    Thare's 3 ways that love can go
    That's good, bad or mediocre
    • Sweet Transvestite has one too:
    If you want something visual
    That's not too abysmal
    We could take in an old Steve Reeves movie.
  • The song "Castle on a Cloud" from Les Misérables has a painful non-rhyme (that is, the line isn't supposed to rhyme, but manages to sound as if it was supposed to and didn't):
    There is a room that's full of toys,
    There are a hundred boys and girls.
    • Also in Les Mis, depending on pronunciation, this rhyme can be quite painful:
    Little dear, cost us dear
    Medicines are expensive, M'sieur
    • Another Les Mis example comes from "Who Am I":
    If I speak, I am condemned
    If I stay silent, I am damned.
    • "On My Own" has a couple of these:
    In the rain, the pavement shines like silver
    All the lights are misty in the river

    Without him, the world around me changes
    The trees are bare and everywhere the streets are full of strangers
  • Wicked contains a few very noticeable clunkers. Special mention should go to "Where so many roam to, / We'll call it home, too" in "One Short Day", and "Dreams the way we planned 'em, / If we work in tandem" in "Defying Gravity".
    • In "Popular" Galinda corrects the rhyme in a lyric:
    Instead of dreary who you were - well, are
    There's nothing that can stop you from becoming popular - lahr
    • Boq speaking to Nessa at the Oz Dust dance:
    Hey, Nessa
    Listen Nessa
    I've got something to confess - a
    Reason why,
    • In "The Wizard and I", Elphaba sings:
    Folks here to an absurd degree
    Seem fixated on your verdigris'
    • And Fiyero in "Dancing Through Life":
    Dancing through life
    Down at the Oz Dust,
    If only because dust
    Is what we come to ...
  • "The Windy City" from Calamity Jane: "Mean wear sideburns, and they oughtta, 'cause a haircut costs a quarter."
  • "Can I Get a Napkin Please", the song for Improv Everywhere's Food Court Musical, has a couple right in a row: "Got a bunch with your lunch? Got a stack in your pack? Got a couple in your duffel? Got some extras under textbooks?" While the song and performance is awesome and hilarious, these lines come across as totally forced and lame. What the hell do duffels and textbooks have to do with a food court? Thankfully, these lines were cut from the video.
  • Lampshaded in "Camelot Song (Knights of the Round Table)" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and its theatrical version Spamalot:
    We're Knights of the Round Table
    Our shows are for-mi-dable
    But many times
    We're given rhymes
    That are quite un-sing-able.
  • In "Brighton Rock", by Queen, apologize and compromised are sort of "bent" to only just half-rhyme with holidays.
  • Mentioned by a songwriter (in song) in Curtains:
    Don't talk about love
    Or you'll have to say "fits like a glove",
    Or "as certain as push comes to shove
    You will pine for the woman you're constantly thinking of."
    And don't mention your life
    Or you'll have to say "cuts like a knife",
    Or refer to the heartbreak and strife
    When you find that you're missing your wife.
  • The song "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from Kiss Me Kate is full of intentionally humourous bad rhymes for Shakespeare plays.
    • Cole Porter, in general, has written many deliberate mispronunciations of words (and outright non-existent words) into his songs, although not always for the sake of rhyming. "Friendship" from Anything Goes has several of these, including the following "rhyming" couplet:
    When other friendships have been for-gate
    Ours will still be great!
  • "Paris Makes Me Horny" from the stage version of Victor/Victoria has a lot of terrible rhymes. One could make the argument that the singer (Norma, a rather terrible lounge showgirl singer) would think they are clever. Then, again, it's a Leslie Bricusse lyric, who's been known to write some terrible rhymes before ... tellingly, this song is so poorly regarded that it was cut from at least one subsequent production.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera: In 'Zydrate Anatomy' we have the lines
    If Mag up and splits/Her eyes are forfeit.
  • In the musical of The Producers, Max begins the "Along Came Bialy" song with:
    The time has come
    To be a lover from the Argentine
    To slick my hair back with Brilliantine
    And gargle heavily with Listerine
    • He even pauses before the last syllable, letting the audience wonder if he's going to force the rhyme or pronounce it properly. He forces it.
    • There's also this gem from "We Can Do It":
    Come On Leo
    Can't you see-o
    You see Rio
    I see jail
  • The Apple gives us the following during one of the songs:
    It's a natural, natural, natural desire
    To meet an actual, actual, actual vampire!
  • There are more Leslie Bricusse clunkers in Jekyll & Hyde - most notably the Act Two opener "Murder, Murder", which contains such gems as:
    To kill outside St. Paul's
    Requires a lot of balls!

    Murder! Murder!
    Once there's one done,
    Murder! Murder!
    Can't be undone.
    Murder! Murder!
    Here in London...
  • In the song "Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?" from The King and I, Anna mispronounces "employee" to rhyme with "pay" and "libertine" to rhyme with "concubine"... and then corrects herself.
  • "Impossible" from Cinderella (Rodgers and Hammerstein) rhymes "pumpkin" with "bumpkin". This feels especially painful during the reprise, when Cinderella still calls herself a bumpkin despite her new Pimped-Out Dress making her look like anything but.
    • The 1997 TV version of the musical (starring Brandy and Whitney Houston) both featured and lampshaded this trope. When the Fairy Godmother (Houston) first appears, she sings in rhyme, and recites, "Fol-de-rol and fiddle-dee-dee, fiddley-faddley-foodle / All the dreamers in the world are...dizzy in the noodle!" Cinderella (Brandy) replies "That's horrible." The Fairy Godmother, thinking she's talking about the rhyming, defends herself, saying that it's difficult to come up with a spur-of-the-moment couplet. Cinderella was actually referring to the sentiment...although the poetry's not great, either.
  • A lesser known one comes from Chess, in which the opening number (or closing, depending on your production) contains this little gem:
    Chess displayed no inertia,
    Soon spread to Persia,
    Then West!
    • Also, though less severe:
    This grips me more than would a
    Muddy old river or reclining Buddha
  • Spamalot gets its title from one of these, in the "Camelot Song" originally featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (see Film above).
    We dine well here in Camelot
    We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot
    • Though everything they rhyme with Camelot is pretty terrible, the worst possibly being "We're opera-mad in Camelot, we sing from the diaphragm a lot!"
  • Bonus points should be given to "Something Sort of Grandish" from Finian's Rainbow, which not only intentionally mispronounces words but abbreviates them or makes them up entirely:
    Something so dareish
    So I don't careish,
    Stirs me from limb to limb.
    It's so terrifish, magnifish, delish.
    To have such an amorish glamorish dish.
  • In "Drop That Name" from Bells Are Ringing, Ella tries to twist "Rin-Tin-Tin" to rhyme with every celebrity's name. She doesn't see how to rhyme it with "Raymond Massey," but fortunately she comes up with the name of another Heroic Dog.
  • In the stage version of Beauty and the Beast, there is an added song after "Be Our Guest" called "If I Can't Love Her" which gives us this rhyme:
    Long Ago I Should Have Seen
    All the Things I could Have Been
  • In The Desert Song, "One Good Boy Gone Wrong" rhymes "saphead" with "trappéd."
  • One Touch of Venus features such strained rhymes as warm/ignor'm ("The Trouble With Women"), Rahway/mah way ("Way Out West In Jersey") and memoirs/them was ("Very, Very, Very"). Of course, Ogden Nash was responsible for these lyrics.
  • In Jerry Herman's Mame, from the song "We Need a Little Christmas":
    So, climb down the chimney
    It's been a long time since I felt good-neighbor-y
    Slice up the fruitcake
    It's time we hung some tinsel on that bayberry bough
    • Made even more unfortunate by the fact that the "good-neighbor-y" line is sung by Mame's Japanese manservant, Ito, in an apparent stereotypical Asian Speekee Engrish mispronunciation of "good-neighborly".
  • The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) forces "tired" to rhyme with "Irad" by pronouncing it "tie-red."
  • Jesus Christ Superstar got a new Swedish translation in 2008 and pretty much every single song had examples of this. For instance in Heaven on their Minds one line goes "You have put them under hypnosis/ they're saying Jesus is the son of God''. In Swedish this means rhyming hypnos with Guds son.
  • "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music painfully twists an English word to fit with a French one:
    Adieu, adieu
    To yeu and yeu and yeu
  • "She Didn't Say 'Yes'" The Cat and the Fiddle rhymes "ad libitum" with "equilibrium."
  • Used intentionally in Heathers, while faking a suicide note.
    J.D.: Just make it sound deep, like this. I had pain in my path... Sylvia Plath... my problems were myriad
    Veronica: *imitating Heather* I was having my period.
    Veronica: Hahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. Ahahahahaha. Haha. Ha. Heh.
    Veronica: *glances down at Heather's dead body* OH MY GOD!
  • The opening two lines to Macbeth:
    When shall we three meet again
    In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
    • It's not clear whether again and rain rhymed in Shakespeare's day, but it's painful now.
      • This is another rhyme that comes down to alternate pronunciations that are valid, but perhaps less used. "Again" can be pronounced either "agen" or "agayn", and only the latter pronunciation rhymes with "rain". If the reader or speaker is used to saying "agen", then the rhyme comes off as quite forced.
    • Language purists should cringe at the redundant second "in". "In thunder, lightning, or rain" and "In thunder, in lightning, or in rain" are both grammatically logical.
  • The Wiz has Dorothy sing the following in "Soon As I Get Home", without even trying to force the offending words to sound similar:
    Why do I feel like I'm drowning
    When there is plenty of air?
    Why do I feel like frowning?
    I think the feeling is fear.
    • The movie The Wiz spares viewers from having to hear this "rhyme" by trimming a sizable portion of the song.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs into this a few times.
    • "Joseph's Coat" gives us these choice couplets. Interestingly, they fall in the same place in two different verses, leading us to believe that Sir Andrew should have chosen a different meter:
      Narrator: But where they have really missed the boat-is,
      Brothers: We're great guys, but no one seems to notice.
      • And later...
        Narrator: His astounding clothing took the biscuit.
        Brothers: Quite the smoothest person in the district.
    • During "Stone the Crows", some of Pharaoh's fangirls sing "Greatest man since Noah / Only goes to show-a."
  • The Phantom of the Opera at least has the decency to lampshade the grammatical assassination in this line from "Notes". Even if it had been correct, it's still Rhyming with Itself.
    Raoul: Isn't this the letter you wrote?
    Firmin: And what is it that we're meant to have wrote? *Beat* Written!

  • There's also this one from the end of Act 1, which not only has an insipid rhyme, but it's repetitive and meaningless, so there's no justification.
    And if he has to kill a thousand men
    The Phantom of the Opera will kill and kill again!


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