Wordy Wednesday – “Neither rhyme nor reason”

‘I got my rhyme on my reason and my reason on my rhyme’…sounds like the start of a hit by rap duo, Rhyme2Reason 😎

The two nouns are synonymous with each other:

  • ‘Rhyme’ refers to a set structure, poetic metre, a correspondence between words.
  • ‘Reason’ is clarity, a logical cause, an explanation for an event.

So to have neither rhyme nor reason is to have no common sense.

The phrase occurs twice in Shakespeare’s works. First in The Comedy of Errors (1590), when Dromio tries to take the ease off his master’s scolding:

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE :
Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season,
When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?

II.ii.47-48

And later in As You Like It (1600), as Orlando professes his love for Rosalind (who is disguised in the scene):

ROSALIND: But are you so much in love as your rhymes speak?
ORLANDO: Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.

III.ii.398-399

In both cases, the phrase is used to express a situation that’s inexpressible. But the tone in HOW it is uttered, differs. Check it out…

Dromio mentions ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ to convey the meaningless use of the words, ‘why’ and ‘wherefore’. He utters it in a sarcastic tone to reveal an unintelligent situation. But Orlando utters ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ to express a love that transcends mere words. His tone is more uplifting, and shows that the emotion of love is beyond intelligent structure and logic.

While Shakespeare popularized the phrase, its origins can be traced before The Bard’s time. ‘Neither rhyme nor reason’ stems from the French term, Na Ryme ne Raison, with its earliest English usage coming from sources including:

  • John Russell – The Boke of Nurture, 1460 (‘As for ryme or reson, ye forewryter was not to blame…’).
  • Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) – The English writer utters the term while critiquing an author’s manuscript (‘Now it is somewhat, for now it is rhyme; whereas before it was neither rhyme nor reason.’)

By: Vineeta Moraes

Sources:
http://www.bartleby.com/100/125.32.html#125.note15
Rhyme nor Reason – http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/301500.html
Oxford English Dictionary – http://www.oed.com/
The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology  – George Latimer Apperson and Martin H. Manser
Common Phrases: And Where They Come From – Myron Korach and John Mordock

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