Apr 4, 2018
Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, society depended mostly on the spoken word. When it came to communicating the news, teaching the faith, spreading propaganda or offering practical solutions to difficult dilemmas, people would often frame their message with the use of rhyme in songs and poems. Not infrequently these little songs held hidden messages about someone embroiled in scandal or a ruler out of favor. Thus, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary was a satirical commentary on the rule and personal life of "Bloody Mary," Queen of Scots.
Today, nursery rhymes are handed on from parents and grandparents to children and from teachers to students, even after their original purpose no longer exists. Little children enjoy the ever popular Ring Around the Rosy. They thrill to recite this nursery rhyme in their playground games, totally unaware of its grim origin as a coded message about the Black Plague.
In the art of language, rhyme has advantages over prose. "Rhyme delights the brain. It seems to spring to life and dance in the empty spaces between the words… Rhyme seems to wire the brain with an internal beat that lives on inside of us, sometimes for many years" (Pat Skene, "Reading, Rhyming and Reciting," Sept. 27, 2011). But, there can be a downside to rhyme. Because of the brain's internal beat or propensity to rhyme, certain words are paired and their meanings distorted, such as "accept" and "except" or "amoral" and "immoral."
In modern times, pairing words by rhyme has dealt a death blow to the very laudatory word "meek." This is a perfectly good word and one with biblical meaning. But, because "meek" so glibly rhymes with "weak," many people simply see the two words as synonyms for the same personal attribute. As a result, what is spoken for someone's fame is now understood to their shame.