Higgledy piggledy

Hello all, I am back from vacation, but rather than get right back into programming language design, let’s have some fun for a Friday.

Most of you are probably familiar with iambic pentameter, which is the poetic meter that Shakespeare wrote in: most lines in Shakespeare are ten syllables, divided up into five iambic feet. Each foot has an unstressed syllable at the beginning and a stressed syllable at the end. As Hamlet says:

O, THAT this TOO too SOlid FLESH would MELT

Very serious, iambs. By contrast, the trochee, in which the stress comes on the first syllable, is hilarious. All you have to do to make internet comedy gold is put two or more trochees together. Try it!

NINja DOCtor VERsus BAcon PIrate
DILbert RObot UNder ANgry CHIcken

You could easily write an automated movie elevator pitch generator that was all trochees, and likely get results no worse than the last few years of Hollywood movies.

Harder to work with than the trochee is the dactyl, or, more specifically, the double dactyl. A dactyl is a poetic foot with three syllables, the first one stressed. A double dactyl is either simply two dactyls, or a poem in the following double-dactyl-heavy form:

DUM dum dum DUM dum dum   -- nonsense
DUM dum dum DUM dum dum   -- person's name
DUM dum dum DUM dum dum   -- description of person
DUM dum dum DUM.          -- rhymes with line 8, ends sentence.

DUM dum dum DUM dum dum   -- second section comments further
DUM dum dum DUM dum dum   -- one of lines 5, 6 or 7 is a single word
DUM dum dum DUM dum dum   -- 
DUM dum dum DUM.          -- rhymes with line 4

The two hardest parts of the double dactyl are coming up with a person’s name and coming up with a single six syllable word. Serious double dactyl enthusiasts go further and require each double dactyl to have a unique six syllable word, but that seems a bit too hard core for me.

For example, here’s one I wrote which is a very short summary and critique of a Kurt Vonnegut short story.

Harrison Bergeron
Became the Emperor 
And then was shot. 

Vonnegut wasn’t an
Satiric tone makes for
Unlikely plot.

I’ve started compiling a list of the double-dactyl six syllable words by reading the Scrabble tournament word list. Of the first five thousand words in the list I’ve found eighteen double dactyls. There are 178 thousand words in the list, so I’ve got a ways to go yet. So far:


My challenge to you is: write a double dactyl on the subject of Benedict Cumberbatch, and leave it in the comments. Any additions to my list of double dactyl words would also be appreciated.

42 thoughts on “Higgledy piggledy

  1. I decline on the grounds that it’s impossible to put the emphasis on the right syllable when rhyming “Spock” with “SherLOCK”.

      • I suspect English/American pronounciation differences could kill (or create, depending on your point of view) quite a few double-dactyls. For example I’d tend to pronounce two of the words on your (Eric’s) list of 6-syllable words as aDRESSaBiLity and acESSaBILity.

        A nice challenge!

  2. Ottermeme, tumblrstream
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Maybe you saw him in
    To Kill A King

    But nerds all adore him
    As Holmes, Assange, and Khan
    Noonien Singh

  3. Here are some I found using the CMU pronouncing dictionary (http://www.speech.cs.cmu.edu/cgi-bin/cmudict): [accessibility], aerodynamically, [aerodynamicist], aerodynamicists, agroindustrial, amiability, analyticity, antemeridian, anthropological, anthropomorphism, antibacterial, antibioticos, anticompetitive, applicability, archaeological, archeological, asiamerica, astrophotography, audiovisual, autobiographer, autobiographies, autobiography, benzodiazepine, biodegradable, biodiversity, biomaterial, biomaterials, bisexuality, cardiovascular, characteristically, chriptosporidium, cinematographer, cinematography, comparability, conticommodity, convertibility, counterinsurgencies, counterinsurgency, counterintelligence, cryptosporidium, czechoslovakia, czechoslovakia’s, czechoslovakian, deontological, dermatological, disciplinarian, disciplinarians, elephantiasis, eligibility, endocrinologist, endocrinologist’s, endocrinologists, endocrinology, entrepreneurial, eschatological, etymological, extracurricular, extraterrestrial, favorability, gardenamerica, gastrointestinal, geopolitical, geopolitically, gynecological, heterosexual, heterosexuals, homogeneity, hydroencephalus, hyperactivity, hypoglycemia, ideological, ideologically, immunological, immunotherapy, improvisational, indianapolis, individualist, inferiority, infinitesimal, infotechnology, instrumentality, interamerican, interferometer, intermolecular, intertechnology, machiavellian, majoritarian, malleability, marketability, marketamerica, mediterranean, megalomania, mesopotamia, mesopotamian, mesopotamians, meteorologist, meteorologist’s, meteorologists, meteorology, methodological, microbiologist, microbiologists, municipalities, municipality, neoconservative, neoconservatives, nomenclatorial, octogenarian, organizational, organogenesis, ornithological, palatability, paleobotany, paleontologist, paleontologists, paleontology, parliamentarian, parliamentarians, pharmacological, physiological, physiologically, profitability, prosecutorial, psychoanalysis, radiological, representational, retroactivity, semicylindrical, sentimentality, sociological, sovietologist, sovietologists, spirituality, stereomicroscope, stereotypical, superamerica, superiority, supermajority, teleological, toxicological, transferability, ultraconservative, universality, unsatisfactory, videoconferencing, villavicencio, vulnerabilities, vulnerability

    • Wow, that is awesome! I had no idea there was such a dictionary. Thanks!

      I had cryptosporidiosis when I was eleven or so; I don’t recommend it. At the time of course I did not know that cryptosporidium, the protozoan responsible, was a double dactyl.

      • What Josh said. This really is a job for CMUdict, not a regular dictionary. Now that you know about it, I encourage you to use it for the power of good — many interesting questions about words can be answered with it.

    • Considerably late to the game here, but I wonder whether you’d be willing to elaborate on how you used the CMU dictionary to find double dactylic words.

  4. Ok, so I cheated on the emphasis.

    Tribbley troubley
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Went Into Darkness with
    Bones, Kirk and Spock.

    Yet it’s a virtual
    Not still to see him as
    Clever SherLOCK.

  5. Higgledy-piggledy
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Consulting detective
    Of London town

    Crime fighting mastermind
    With help from John Watson
    Crime rates go down

  6. Sort of a poetry
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    May wholeheartedly

    Extraterrestrial —
    God Bless America,
    Pinter and stuff.

  7. Funny you should bring up Shakespeare today.
    For the last month, I’ve been working on a .NET compiler for the Shakespeare Programming Language (shakespearelang.sourceforge.net).

    I hope to have the article about it on my blog (see above) out over the weekend.

  8. Although some people slog through iambic pentameter, drearily stressing every other syllable, a web page I found some years ago but cannot relocate suggests that Shakespeare’s intention was almost certainly to have readers use a bit more judgment.

    Shall I comPARE thee, to a SUMmer’s day
    Thou art more LOVEly and more TEMperate.
    Harsh WINDS do SHAKE the darling buds of MAY
    And SUMmer’s BREEZE hath all too short a DATE.

    Examining Shakespeare’s sonnets, one will find that while the “syllabic” rhyme scheme is always ABAB, there is a “rhythmic” pattern AABB. Some lines may have possible readings which wouldn’t work well with the paired line (e.g. “summer’s DAY” might work well, but “temperATE” would be awkward), but it’s almost always possible to find a rhythm that will work well for both lines in each couplet, and in many cases that rhythm would work badly for the other couplet in the quatrain [e.g. “BUDS of May” and “SHORT a date” would seem awkward].

    If you’re ever in a literary mood, try looking at Shakespeare’s sonnets with that sort of rhythmic pattern in mind–I think you’ll enjoy it.

    • Oh, absolutely, clearly Shakespeare is using iambic pentameter to inform the shape of the text and to make it easier to memorize, not as a metronome that must be obeyed. I actually had to look quite a ways through Hamlet to find a pair of lines that stood alone, were memorable, and were strongly in the meter. (And even the one I chose is pretty weak on that “AND”.)

      • That exploration of rhythm is interesting, but very incomplete without taking into account the time. English used to be very different, many rhymes and many stresses, vowels moved.

  9. One I wrote about 20 years ago:

    Higgledy Piggledy
    Andrew Lloyed Weber, con-
    ducting his orchestra,
    heard a wrong note.

    Fearing a misprint he
    picked up the score and then
    checked what he wrote.

  10. Terrapin solenoid,
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Isn’t a psychopath,
    Nor is he mad.

    Disregard amateur
    Benny’s an actor and
    Isn’t half bad.

  11. Higgledy piggledy
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Actor whose name is a
    rhyming device.

    Blog post’s misspelling, un-
    makes Eric Lippert look
    less than precise.

  12. I’ll give it whirl:

    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Deerstalker, a warp core
    Contrasts Eric Lippert

    Programmer, columnist
    Their talents are varied
    Yet often, both assert.

    [1] Psychopathologist refers to Sherlock, ish (I can’t speak to Eric’s expertise in that department).
    [2] I’m not sure if it’s legal to split Er-ic across lines and make the emphasis weird.
    [3] I’m not sure if Eric actually (Debug.Assert)’s often.

  13. Otterly face-angled
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    struggle to frame.

    Pondering lighting his
    facial anatomy
    causes disdain.

  14. Hobbitsy-wobbitsy
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Elegant baritone
    Smaug hit the spot

    Closing in quickly on
    Maybe he’ll seek an
    Original plot

  15. Higgledy-piggledy
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Horse-face-d actor, no
    Superstar yet.

    He portrays Holmes sans the
    Given the slueth by one
    Jeremy Brett.

    I didn’t mean to come off all ant-Benedict; I actually quite like him. He really emphasizes the less affable side of Sherlock though.

  16. Microsoft did release
    Visual Studio
    and messed it up beyond

    getting work done was an
    I did skip it of my
    own volition.

  17. Hickory Dickory
    Benedict Cumberbatch
    Dragon’s voice, Sauron’s walk
    There, back again

    Bilbo bags Top billing
    Freeman plays His Pal, Watson
    Back from campaign

    I suspect there should be a Kevin Bacon reference in there somewhere, but 6 degrees of separation doesn’t equate to six syllables.

  18. Crickety-wickety Benedict Cumberbatch
    His name’s so English it pauses for tea
    Not an antidisestablishmentarian
    For Queen and Country indubitably

  19. Higgledy-piggledy
    Benedict Cumberbatch,

    Courts fanboy hate.

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