The premise of the paper proves itself
June 10, 2022 5:45 AM   Subscribe

 
I got to the end, said "Oh no fucking way", and sure enough...
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:54 AM on June 10 [11 favorites]


This was going around Twitter because the author, Anne Cutler, passed away recently. Obituary here; and her Wikipedia page here.

I only had a few brief interactions with Anne at conferences but she was one of those people who knock you over with their intelligence from fifty paces. She will be very much missed.
posted by damayanti at 6:02 AM on June 10 [23 favorites]


Snort! Not until page two did I start to sense something was up.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:04 AM on June 10


Ahhhhh this put a great big smile on my face, the rare sort that drives away background stress and worries completely and utterly for a while. Thank you for sharing it!
posted by protorp at 7:09 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Were we limerick-rolled?
posted by MrJM at 7:09 AM on June 10 [19 favorites]


That's weird. For me, the metrical nature of the first sentence of the intro came through so strongly that the jig was up from the very start.
posted by BlueDuke at 7:14 AM on June 10 [60 favorites]


That's weird. For me, the metrical nature of the first sentence of the intro came through so strongly that the jig was up from the very start.

Same. I audiate when reading (and writing) which I don't know if is universal?
posted by Dysk at 7:17 AM on June 10 [15 favorites]


I noticed immediately too, but I was primed by the "proves itself" framing.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 7:20 AM on June 10 [14 favorites]


Very, *very* interesting. I find that when I read prose, especially when reading an author with a definite strong voice to the writing, I route the words on the page through a sort of internal speech synthesizer, and then parse the resulting internal "audio" as if I was hearing it with my ears. For example, Cormack McCarthy is usually read with a Sam Elliot "filter." This is opposite to what I do when reading science/technical stuff (my usual reading diet). I began that article reading it as science; stripped of any rhythm or rhyme processing. When I finished the first paragraph - noting the odd preponderance of added clauses and complicated sentence structure - I experimented with reading the next paragraph it in the voice of Ze Frank doing Morgan Freeman, and the rhyming and structure stuck out immediately, but was rocky at first. After a paragraph or two it became natural, and was quite lyrical. Wild.
posted by cyclotronboy at 7:28 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


Woah! Beautiful
posted by mumimor at 7:28 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


The premise of the paper's that the proof is in the pudding, but the pattern of the patter has a rhyme that is true.

I wonder if anything can be learned about *how* people read based on how long it took them to figure it out.

For example, I tend to skim-read, but I'm also into wordplay and cryptic crosswords, which may prime me to notice unusual syntax.
My husband also picked up on it within the first few sentences; he studied speech & rhetoric in college, so started reading it aloud because he couldn't not.
posted by cheshyre at 7:31 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


By the time I got to "sound" I was like, wait a gosh durn minute here
posted by xigxag at 7:40 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Reading in my normal mode for prose, I don't exactly hear the words, although I'm aware of their pronunciation. I read much faster than I can process spoken language, and I'm not even necessarily reading the words in sequence; I seem to take in chunks at a time, with the punctuation marks serving as useful hooks for doing that. So I didn't pick up on it until the last page - I knew something odd was going on, and I looked for a letter to be missing, but didn't think of looking at the structure as a whole.

If I want to read poetry, I have to slow *right* down, and really hear the words as I read them.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:41 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


I have tried something like this many times when reading childrens books aloud. It is extremely hard not to fall into a sing-song, rather than sounding like you are simply relating an anecdote. Try it sometime.
posted by bigbigdog at 7:51 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of rereading The Fellowship of the Ring and noticing for the first time that Tom Bombadil always uses the same meter, not only for his songs but all his dialogue too!
posted by mbrubeck at 7:56 AM on June 10 [13 favorites]


Rhyme: busted.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:59 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


For a couple of years, 20 years ago, I worked as a journalist, and my mentor at the paper taught me to read all of my articles out loud before sending them to the editor. I have never been able to unlearn that. Very useful advice.
posted by mumimor at 8:04 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


I wonder if anything can be learned about *how* people read based on how long it took them to figure it out.

I immediately picked up that there was an artificial rhythm but (because I assumed there'd be a joke at the end) I just pressed on and it wasn't until the last page that I realized it wasn't just in meter but was actually rhyming verse. All the way through.

I loved this post!
posted by mark k at 8:05 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


For the longest time I was waiting to see the reveal of the paper to discuss something like how enforced rhyme-structures and lyrical meter will coax an audience past noticing that the content of the text is gibberish; like they'd start slipping in nonsense phrases to see if the reader would gloss over them in service of trying to resolve the rhyme and meter patterns (kind of like how you can sing along with an absolutely nonsense song and still be baffled by the lyrics in any other context).

When it got to the end and discussed how people would just not notice the rhymes at all, my brain stumbled - how was it possible to NOT recognize that structure in the space of the first two or three sentences? It's kind of like realizing that not everyone has the framework for mental visualization and imagery, and some literally don't see pictures in their head when imagining things.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:11 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


This is timely. A few days ago I was on a local commuter train service and saw for perhaps the thousandth time their customer service charter, posted in each car. It listed five goals they have, including
To do our best to be on time
To keep you in the know
It occurred to me that these are perfect ballad meter: these two (in English, anyway -- it is bilingual English/French) would slot together right into Amazing Grace, most of the Emily Dickinson oeuvre, or the Ballad of Gilligan’s Island.

Unfortunately, after that, it gets a little bumpier ("To make your experience comfortable")*. With a little more work, however, they could have had a gem here. Actually writing the thing in ballad meter and not mentioning it to anyone would have been a genius move.

Right now I am working on writing a standard for ISO. Maybe I can subtly reword it to get it into iambic pentameter.

*"To keep the others comfortable," tho, as what the first mate and the skipper do.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:19 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


The phrasing struck me as unusual relatively quickly, leading me to think it was about the rhythm, and as soon as I'd noticed that, I noticed a rhyme in the sentence and went back and confirmed it.
posted by Four Ds at 8:44 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Data point: I noticed the rhyme and meter by the second sentence. I'm also one of those people that can't really create mental imagery (aphantasia) and I'm inclined to believe this is related. I mainly think in ... speech. Mentally "spoken" words.
posted by penduluum at 8:46 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


I read the last paragraph in Eminem's Lose Yourself voice. I didn't notice it until then.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:06 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Ha, this is delightful. I was primed to be suspicious (this is post-worthy, this is deliberately unexplained, the title of the paper is about perception of rhythmic patterns, ALRIGHT BABY LET'S PERCEIVE SOME FUCKIN' RHYTHMIC PATTERNS IN LANGUAGE) and got it right off the bat; the iambs jumped out immediately (or-THO-graph-Y was a lovely opening gambit) and the rhyme was fixed as soon as the first pairing showed up.

So I can't reasonably say how quickly I would have caught on if I came to it blind. I think probably fairly quickly if only because I am prone to pick up rhymes pretty quickly in general, and because being a little bit hyperaware of meter comes with having written songs (and dumb lyrical puns on twitter for that matter) for so many years.

But I don't think of myself as a particularly "vocal" reader and it's interesting to hear other folks reasoning about their internal reading voice; I've never really felt like I understand the nature of my internal reading process, at most knowing that my default experience of reading is to not really feel aware of the sound/voice/process of ingesting the words and almost always slowing down and becoming sort of fractally self-conscious about the process of reading and the "sound" of the words I'm taking in once I do pay attention. Feels like when you start thinking about breathing.
posted by cortex at 9:11 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


(or trochee, not iambs? whatever, it's in two, i'm not a poet)
posted by cortex at 9:12 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


To do our best to be on time
To keep you in the know


i used to work for a trade magazine in the financial services industry. Opening the post there one day, I found a press release announcing a new awards scheme. One of the categories it listed for entries was: "Most effective communication of financial information in a flotation situation". That was nearly 40 years ago and I still have the phrase stuck in my head now.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:13 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Hah. I'm used to reading academic papers written in English by academics who don't speak English as a first language. So my initial reaction was to check where the author was from. Noting that, I proceeded with the assumption the slightly off phrasing was a non-native English issue, and purposely ignored it. Little did I know...
posted by EllaEm at 9:18 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Got it on the second pass. I spent the first pass looking for the Rickroll.
posted by whuppy at 9:25 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]



As a MeFite who quite often skips the main link for the comments I was clued in by Pope Guilty that this one was worth the time. Once I hit the second sentence I could see there was a pattern so I started reading audibly to more enjoy the rhyme. After half the first line out loud, well my husband started laughing, so we took a couple minutes to go through all of the piece. It was interesting to see the sentences which I would trip on, ones with words I'd given two beats but the author meant as threes.

And another thing that's funny was that dancing with the rhythm meant I almost took no notice of the meaning of the words. After I had finished reading it I couldn't really tell you very much about the content (though I know that that's absurd).

But I did pick up a major theme re: sentence segmentation and it brought to mind that story by Ted Chiang (if you know him). Here's a quote to illustrate that, if you'd maybe like to read it; as for me I think I'll go and read that "Hiawatha" poem.

What a strange art writing was. When sowing a field, it was best to have the seed yams spaced evenly; Jijingi’s father would have beaten him if he’d clumped the yams the way the Moseby clumped his marks on paper. But he had resolved to learn this art as best he could, and if that meant clumping his marks, he would do so.

It was only many lessons later that Jijingi finally understood where he should leave spaces, and what Moseby meant when he said "word." You could not find the places where words began and ended by listening. The sounds a person made while speaking were as smooth and unbroken as the hide of a goat’s leg, but the words were like the bones underneath the meat, and the space between them was the joint where you’d cut if you wanted to separate it into pieces. By leaving spaces when he wrote, Moseby was making visible the bones in what he said.

Jijingi realized that, if he thought hard about it, he was now able to identify the words when people spoke in an ordinary conversation. The sounds that came from a person’s mouth hadn’t changed, but he understood them differently; he was aware of the pieces from which the whole was made. He himself had been speaking in words all along. He just hadn’t known it until now.
posted by What is E. T. short for? at 9:25 AM on June 10 [36 favorites]


that story by Ted Chiang (if you know him)

And if you don't know him, introduce yourself. It's worth your time.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:29 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


Sometimes - if I have time - when I have to do some shorter writing like a press release or a leaflet I'll write it as a poem first. This is purely for my own amusement and to help me get the language clearer in my head - none of it ever goes into the final product, and the poem is never better than doggerel. But to avoid repeating rhymes you have to find more ways of saying the same thing, and that helps the prose.

Also, to second mumimor, the best way to proof something you've written yourself is to read it out aloud across the room. All the errors are immediately obvious. It's a shame it's only practical for shorter items.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:29 AM on June 10


Primed as I was by the first ten comments here, I still could not make myself hear or feel the limericity.

In the hands of their inventor Edward Lear, a true multi dimensional genius (and also a grand mal epileptic, interestingly enough), the terminal words in the first and last lines of limericks were usually repeated rather than merely rhyming:
There was an Old Derry down Derry, who loved to see little folks merry;
So he made them a Book, and with laughter they shook, at the fun of that Derry down Derry!
And as that limerick from the title page of his A Book of Nonsense shows, were typeset in various ways, but mostly like:
There was a Young Lady of Ryde, whose shoestrings were seldom untied;
She purchased some clogs, and some small spotty dogs,
And frequently walked about Ryde.
with spacing and justification as shown on the linked page.
posted by jamjam at 9:33 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Like pendulum above, I don't create mental imagery well and mostly think in speech - I "hear" written words while I'm reading them. So I noticed the rhythm and rhyming almost immediately and immediately found it almost infuriatingly distracting. I had to fight through anticipating the next rhyme to actually parse the meaning of the text. (The fact that the syntax and word choice are occasionally unnatural to create the effect doesn't help with understanding either.)

It's fascinating to me that I would have understood it more easily if it had been formatted with the rhymes at the end of a line, as we do poetry. That format primes my brain for "this is going to rhyme at predictable intervals and make unusual word choices, so get ready for that".
posted by darchildre at 9:55 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I observed the paper's rhythm by the end of the first sentence, but I might have taken longer had I not been primed to hear; I was tipped off by the title of the post to seek an answer to the question of how Anne's self-proving premise would appear.
posted by BlueJae at 9:58 AM on June 10 [11 favorites]


The unusual style and word choices tipped me off within the first sentence or two, because it violated my expectations for scientific writing. If not for that I don't know if I would have noticed. Once I noticed, I started processing the text as speech in my mind, and it slowed me way down. The anecdote she related about sharing a similarly-constructed piece of writing with a group of friends, many of whom didn't notice it was in verse, was interesting: had I received non-scientific writing of a similar form, I think I also would have been less likely to notice (unless I was familiar with the author's style otherwise and picked up on the deviation).

I briefly considered composing this comment in rhyming verse to honor the source but decided I don't have the patience for it right now.
posted by biogeo at 10:05 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


It's not actually using limerick meter. It’s in trochaic octameter with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The meter is catalectic; the final foot of every other line is just a single strong syllable:
The orthography of English has a very simple basis
for establishing where words in written texts begin and end:

both before and also after every word are empty spaces
and this demarcation surely helps the reader comprehend.
This is the same meter (but not the same rhyme scheme) as most of Poe’s The Raven :
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
(Poe based this structure on Lady Geraldine’s Courtship by Elizabeth Barrett.)
posted by mbrubeck at 10:07 AM on June 10 [21 favorites]


I think by the second sentence I had the rhyme scheme and rhythm sorted out. But I've noticed people process written text differently - for example, my wife struggles to read rhyming children's books aloud to our kids. I pick up rhythm and rhyme quickly and will give the author lots of leeway in extra unstressed syllables or slant rhymes, while she can't really parse it.

For those like me, I recommend the absolutely delicious "Once Upon a Twice," by Denise McKenna. Rhyme, rhythm, internal rhyming and portmanteau galore. It begins: "Once upon a twice/ In the middle of the nice / The moon was on the rice / And the mice were scoutaprowl."
posted by skullhead at 10:08 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


There once was a paper by Cutler
with a rhyme scheme that could’a been subtler
The conclusions were good
as I understood
but now my brain really wants me to cudgel ‘er
posted by Going To Maine at 10:11 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


I still could not make myself hear or feel the limericity.
Well, it's because there isn't any.

The orthography of English
has a very simple basis
for establishing where words in
written texts begin and end:

Seven four-beat feet with the emphasis on the penultimate (Wikipedia says that's a tertius paeon) followed by one three-beat with emphasis on the last (I should know that's an anapest, but I had to look it up)--which last is the one that rhymes.

both before and also after
every word are empty spaces
and this demarcation surely
helps the reader comprehend.

dadaDAda dadaDAda
dadaDAda dadaDAda
dadaDAda dadaDAda
dadaDAda dadaDA

If the beats are four in number and the third one gets the wallop, it's a synch that it's a paeon to the tertius, don'tcha know. This was Poe's especial favorite per mbrubeck (beat me to it). Now I've wasted forty minutes to my everlasting woe.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:19 AM on June 10 [19 favorites]


Very nice, Going to Maine, but for the last line, how about 'but now my brain wants to scuttl'er'?
posted by jamjam at 10:21 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


What an interesting paper, and a brilliant delivery; some comments are delightful here, also rhythmic like poetry. I see you, What is E. T. short for, BlueJae, Don Pepino, winking knowingly.
posted by many more sunsets at 10:23 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


That was absolutely magnificent.

I loved the paper, and I've been enjoying the varied descriptions of people's experiences in the comments here.

(My brain kept going to "Modern Major-General," myself, which wasn't quite right but was sufficiently adjacent to make my brain happy.)

Thank you so much for posting this, DoctorFedora!
posted by kristi at 10:57 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


I read much faster than I "hear" writing in my head, so I didn't notice anything until the last paragraph, when I slowed down enough to "hear" it. I had to go back to the beginning to confirm that the scheme went all the way through the whole thing.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:59 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


my name is Anne
and when it's nite
and i have got
to sit and rite

and wen the thing
is rythmic prose
perceived or not
(who rilly knows?)

and wen i have
the hole thing writ
and unsuspecting
folks reed it

then the reeder
mouth agape
gets the trick
i feet the pape
posted by cortex at 11:02 AM on June 10 [31 favorites]


I did not pick up on it till the last paragraph, and even then I only picked up on it because I knew there was something to look for based on the first few comments.

Similar to pendulum and darchildre, i also don't create mental imagery and was very glad to learn there is a word for it, aphantasia!

But different then them, i don't "hear" the words in my head while i read them. I read way too fast for that. Maybe that's why poetry has never really worked for me, i'm always looking for meaning while i read and not the rhythms. I don't "hear" or "see" things, i just have meaning transferred to me.

Thanks for posting!
posted by lips at 11:38 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


(i ended up being a few minutes late to my therapy video call because I was having fun writing that and my therapist agreed with me that that was probably an okay use of that time)
posted by cortex at 11:54 AM on June 10 [14 favorites]


This is the same meter (but not the same rhyme scheme) as most of Poe’s The Raven :

Interestingly, I've noticed many readings of The Raven tend to ignore the meter completely, which I've always wondered about as it seems (to me) both obvious and essential. That makes me wonder how well the article's observation that everyone picks up on rhythm once they have line breaks actually holds up. I'd actually expect that with sufficiently long lines (as in The Raven), many (or even most?) readers would not notice the meter.

Out of curiosity...
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”
...for those of you who didn't pick up on the rhythm of the article, did you notice the meter here, especially in the third and fourth lines?

(Maybe her observation is only about the case where rhymes and emphasis occur solely at the ends of lines, and not in the middle.)
posted by trig at 11:58 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, I've noticed many readings of The Raven tend to ignore the meter completely

I feel like there is a tendency in some readings of metered poetry to not so much ignore as refrain from the meter; it's not that the meter isn't obvious so much as the person reciting is trying to deemphasize it and approach a more naturalistic spoken vibe; cf. performances of Shakespeare where the lines are delivered more as sentences with a natural flow to them than as a series of ten-beat lines.

The Raven feels like a weirder one to do that with for sure—it has some narrative to it that kind of explains a desire to convert to more of a storytelling feel, but, yeah, it's an extremely mannered and structured poem, closer to Dorothy Parker than to something that might ambiguously pass as prose—but I do wonder how much of it is a failure to notice so much as a conscious style decision. I suppose who is doing the reciting would be a big factor in sussing that out.
posted by cortex at 12:06 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Yes, I definitely think that when, say, a famous actor who's done Shakespeare reads The Raven without rhythm it's a conscious choice (although one I disagree with in this specific context, because I think the meter is an integral part of the piece and a source of some of its humor). But I've heard the same from regular readers just reading the poem out loud, and so I wonder to what extent it's a matter of just not noticing for many people.
posted by trig at 12:15 PM on June 10


I skimmed this so severely I missed everything. I've been unable to find it again, but I read something interesting about how a Japanese native speaker just didn't realise that an English haiku had specific syllabic rules.
posted by jeather at 12:30 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


OK, I was definitely a math major sneaking into an English class here. I came for the trochaic octameter, I stayed for the limerick-rolling. I see both sides of the meter thing: since language isn't my first language, I'm regularly impressed by poets'/writers' ability to pick not just the right word, but the right word with the right stresses in the right place to get your soliloquies and sonnets "just so."

But I will never forget how I was not impressed rather blown away by James Wright's Saint Judas not just for being awesome, but for defying my attempts to READ it IN the WAY the MEter WOULD inSIST. Like, it's just a guy telling a story, right? "I caught/a pack of hoodlums beating up a man." But it's not---the iambs are there, as sure as music is the food of love. They're not in the way, though, and that felt like a magic trick.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. I love love love the Raven, and I couldn't read that without the meter popping out for anything. But to obey the meter without BUILDing METroNOMES inTO your TEXT feels like some next-level stuff to a guy who came to reading appreciation a little late. See also Andrew Scott's Hamlet, I guess.
posted by adekllny at 12:39 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Thanks a lot, now I'm reading everything in this rhythm!

(seriously though, this was good)
posted by panama joe at 1:03 PM on June 10


MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: Oh, really? So when I say: Nicole bring me my slippers and fetch my nightcap,” is that prose?

PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Most clearly.

MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: Well, what do you know about that! These forty years now I’ve been speaking in prose without knowing it!

—Molière, The Bourgeois Gentleman, 1670
posted by lalochezia at 1:15 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I've never been so excited to read a paper, from the title of the post to the first few comments, and I read it all the way through without so much as a clue until I read some more of the comments, went back, and am so, so shocked. This has been an exciting five minutes.
posted by BlunderingArtist at 1:18 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


Now I wonder what would happen if some comment by a reader had a similar construction to the paper we've discussed. Are we now so hypersensitized to things like rhyme and meter that we'd spot it in an instant or would it just be a bust?
posted by dfan at 1:23 PM on June 10 [15 favorites]


dfan, ahem.
posted by cgc373 at 1:58 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]


I saw this linked on Twitter yesterday and picked up on the rhyme pretty much right away and the rhythm fairly quickly after that. (I also kept trying to fit it into the "Modern Major General" cadence.) I'm not aphantasic, but I am neurodiverse in other ways. I would be totally curious about whether people who are neurodiverse are more likely to notice the rhyme and the rhythm.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:13 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I've been unable to find it again, but I read something interesting about how a Japanese native speaker just didn't realise that an English haiku had specific syllabic rules.
posted by jeather
Honestly, I get up on a soapbox from time to time about how the English-language notion of a “haiku” bears almost no resemblance to the original Japanese poetic form, in a bunch of ways. Leaving aside structural conventions (in English a “haiku” Is usually just considered “an utterance that is seventeen syllables long,” with little concern for anything beyond that), I think a much stronger analogue to the information density of a haiku in Japanese would be if, in English, they were 2/3/2 words instead of counting syllables.

Anyway this is my preferred form of yelling at cloud
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:38 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


this is my preferred form of yelling at cloud
posted by lalochezia at 2:43 PM on June 10


I do like Keruoac’s “American haiku”, which deliberately disregard syllable counts in favor vibe. e.g.

The taste
of rain
– Why kneel?
posted by Going To Maine at 2:46 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


(more)
posted by Going To Maine at 2:47 PM on June 10


Sometimes - if I have time - when I have to do some shorter writing like a press release or a leaflet I'll write it as a poem first. This is purely for my own amusement and to help me get the language clearer in my head - none of it ever goes into the final product, and the poem is never better than doggerel. But to avoid repeating rhymes you have to find more ways of saying the same thing, and that helps the prose.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:29 AM on June 10


Please, I implore you to release some of your poetic press releases (if need be, you can include the prose copy below). As somebody who spends way too much time slogging through badly written press releases, it would make my day so much brighter to encounter even bad doggerel.
posted by sardonyx at 3:15 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I also think it's fascinating that people don't pick up the rhyming / rhythm immediately. It jumped out at me in the first line. I had to keep re-reading sentences because all I could focus on was... "da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DEE, da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DEE!" and it was effort to pay attention to the actual content.

In fact I'm not sure I ever really digested it. Rhythmic phrasing shows us that our brains prefer chunked speech -- is that the lesson Dr. Cutler worked so hard to teach?
posted by rouftop at 3:25 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


As What is E. T. short for? wrote, I tend to skim or pass the original post for the comments. I didn't get it when I skimmed, so went back and read it..still didn't get it. Not until I followed others suggestions and read it aloud..and this was so much fun! Thank you everyone, for the post itself, and the tips on how to enjoy it.
posted by annieb at 3:30 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


"it would make my day so much brighter to encounter even bad doggerel"

It's all good doggerel, sardonics.

*cough*

I am one of those people who didn't get it until the very end. I found it via a Tweet with different framing though. I did notice that the syntax was a bit odd in places, had some poetic flourishes, and in the passage about the haiku I quickly checked to see if anything was in 5 7 5 form in that paragraph. But nope, didn't click until the last sentence. For what it's worth, I am a habitual skim reader, and a very fast reader, and my habit is a quick fast read and then a loving re-read.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:31 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


I think a much stronger analogue to the information density of a haiku in Japanese would be if, in English, they were 2/3/2 words instead of counting syllables.

Yeah, I think there is a tendency in English (and perhaps all character-phonetic languages?) to treat meter counting literally in a way that is less obvious in syllabaries like Japanese, that makes the actual gist of haiku less obvious than the seeming formal constraints. But that could also just be my very constraint-oriented brain overgeneralizing.

In any case, I think there is something to the way human pattern recognition tends to generalize and simplify and systematize everything it comes in contact with in search of deductible templates, to the point that popular poetic forms tend to reduce from e.g. the complexities of the fiddly sestina or the expressively concise haiku to the nominally formal but accessibly constrained Here I Sit, Broken Hearted graffito,
posted by cortex at 3:49 PM on June 10


This was so "The Raven" from the first sentence that I couldn't even get through it.

I've been slowly reading the "The complete Edgar Allen Poe" and I'm amazed that my child self was able to both read and understand Poe. My child self loved the poems, and I have to conclude that the thudding rhythm and driving rhymes had something to do with it. I thought I would hate the poems now, but no, they're great. Gaily bedight.
posted by acrasis at 4:10 PM on June 10


It's a lovely piece of writing and I found it very pleasing; something in it felt familiar from the end of the first clause. And although it took a little while to put my finger on it, by the time I'd read a paragraph I thought I'd found the cause: as a budding young Australian I'd been fed a steady diet of the doggerel that passes for our native form of verse, from your Lawson and your Patterson to earnest clueless yokels whom the local papers publish though their stuff is so much worse. So although at first distracted by the author's choice of subject I could feel the singsong pattern that I'd heard for all those years - and I laughed aloud and stopped and showed the piece to ms flabdablet, who missed the point entirely 'til she read it with her ears.
posted by flabdablet at 4:11 PM on June 10 [16 favorites]


This was fun to say aloud but I don't "hear" the rhythm while reading it internally, but I think that's because I don't really really in order so much as kind of start in the middle and glance around for additional context as needed, not reading every word necessarily and not in sequence. Not sure I explained that right, but I noticed the phrasing was unusual right away but I thought it was going to be a doublespeak kind of trick, since it was kind of odd to read my normal way since the information was arranged in an artistic manner.
posted by GoblinHoney at 4:15 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I’m absolutely lousy at meter, and could never really pick it up, which is like my secret English major mark of shame. On the other hand, since my day job is trying to teach paragraph and essay writing skills to a bunch of near-native English speaking Japanese kids (most with at least some experience living in English speaking countries, others are graduates of international elementary schools), I kind of picked up that something was going on pretty quickly through the word choices. I spend a lot of time going over their work and helping them with word choices, and this paper has a lot of interesting phrasings that jumped out at me, though I, too, was ready for the paper to let me know that, linguistically speaking, it is nearly impossible to escape never being given up, nor let down.

As far as haiku, I love doing a short segment with my returnee kids on writing English haiku. There’s always the initial “what? This is dumb.” reaction, but past that, it can be a useful, if simple introduction to syllables and word choice.

It’s a different form from Japanese haiku. For kids, though, good fun.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:19 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Well you guys are smarter than me because I just thought it was a strangely written paper but didn't pick up on the rhymes at all until I came to this thread.
posted by zardoz at 4:28 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


I got this through the RSS earlier today, so I didn't see these comments, but I somehow picked up on it early enough that I ended up reading the whole thing aloud. I am amazed at what the human mind is capable of producing. Particularly that the paper makes sense. And discusses other rhythms than the one it employs. It's a poem which discusses other forms of poetry.

I just read it aloud to my spouse. Clearly the best of the web.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 4:36 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


It is incredible to think that there was a time when most scientific writing was produced in verse like this. Lucretius's On the Nature of Things is essentially a treatise of theoretical physics describing 1st century BCE atomism, and the whole thing is Latin verse. More recently and firmly situated in the modern concept of science, Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, wrote many of his treatises on biology and physiology as poetry, including his proposal of universal common descent that his grandson would eventually discover the evidence and mechanism for.

I'm glad that's no longer an expectation for scientific publication, scientific technical writing is hard enough as it is. On the other hand maybe that would give me a small edge.
posted by biogeo at 4:55 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Rhythmic phrasing shows us that our brains prefer chunked speech -- is that the lesson Dr. Cutler worked so hard to teach?

Not really. What she's on about is pointing out the differences between the ways we chunk the things we read and those we hear. When we read things we have spaces on the page between the words but when we hear them it's the rhythms of the speech that make them clear.

As she says, inserting spaces into speech is weird and stilted and just isn't something anyone would usually do; so to parse speech into meaning, then, we have to pay attention to some features that the written word does not require us to.
posted by flabdablet at 4:56 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


I thought maybe the paper was a 1-pager titled "PDF hosted at the Radboud Repository of the Radboud University Nijmegen."
posted by grobstein at 5:18 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


By the way, although I said the meter was trochaic, I think Don Pepino's right: It should be tertius paeons. I first read it in trochees since it was so like The Raven, but I find it flows much better with four beats instead of two.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:24 PM on June 10


...for those of you who didn't pick up on the rhythm of the article, did you notice the meter here, especially in the third and fourth lines?

FWIW:

I picked up the rhythm of the article in a broad sense. Once I clinched what was going on, no problem hearing it. For the bit you quoted, and broadly Poe and similar poetry, I find the rhythm deafeningly obvious as it announces itself.

But I've noticed it makes a big difference to me whether the ends of lines correspond with ends of semantically meaningful groups (like sentences, phrases, clauses, etc.) When that happens the natural breaks make it really easy to hear. When it's not I basically need to read it aloud, and in a somewhat unnatural way, to hear the rhythm.
posted by mark k at 5:35 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


The flip side of how stilted we would sound if we spoke spaces is that writing done for rhythm can be somewhat hard to read. The awkward phrasing choices that the metric foot imposes often muddy comprehension and the parsing can impede.
posted by flabdablet at 5:38 PM on June 10 [15 favorites]


I'm don't know exactly how I process the written word, though of course I do it all the time. I'm not a fan of poetry, especially of rhyme. I didn't suspect anything with this until I hit the word "descry." I didn't see a thing before. My failure makes me cry.
posted by lhauser at 5:44 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]


I feel like there is a tendency in some readings of metered poetry to not so much ignore as refrain from the meter; it's not that the meter isn't obvious so much as the person reciting is trying to deemphasize it and approach a more naturalistic spoken vibe; cf. performances of Shakespeare where the lines are delivered more as sentences with a natural flow to them than as a series of ten-beat lines.

I vastly prefer this approach to reading metered poetry. If you try to read strongly-metered rhyming poetry like you would prose, the rhythm will still assert itself just fine, but your natural inflection will add a melody (sometimes a counter-melody even) and make the whole thing richer than if you just hammer out power chords to the beat, so to speak.
posted by straight at 5:49 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


My phone is set to download only unmetered poetry, so the only way I can get Shakespeare on it is over wifi.
posted by flabdablet at 5:53 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


I noticed the rhythm and rhyming almost immediately and immediately found it almost infuriatingly distracting. I had to fight through anticipating the next rhyme to actually parse the meaning of the text.

My own brain is super easily overwhelmed by rhythm, to the point where I can parse no meaning at all from almost all of hip-hop even if I play it back at half speed.
posted by flabdablet at 6:06 PM on June 10


Rhythmic phrasing shows us that our brains prefer chunked speech -- is that the lesson Dr. Cutler worked so hard to teach?

Have you ever tried to learn another language? You know how you're fine in the classroom when everything is very slow and there are full milliseconds between words so you can clearly hear each separate word in a sentence? But then you try to understand somebody speaking the language normally and even if you know a lot of the words they're using, you're immediately lost because you have no idea where one word stops and the next begins? Well, it's because you don't know the rhythm. You can know all the words, but if you don't know the rhythm, you don't know the language.

Now linguistic rhythmic structures have a noticeable feature
in that language universal they are definitely not.
This fact is all too obvious to any hapless teacher
who has tried to coax the prosody of French from, say, a Scot.


When you hear your own language spoken, how do you know where one word leaves off and another begins? How do you, in real time, parse a sentence as it's being spoken? Turns out it's the rhythm that keeps it all from becoming a blended indistinguishable morass. In a language you know well, you don't just know the words, you know the rhythm.

Reading is different. You don't have to rely on the rhythm to separate one word from another so that you can understand, and in fact you probably won't even notice the rhythm. As Cutler points out, in print, the rhythm is seen rather than heard: "written rhythm’s only noticed when it clearly hits the eye." Unless it's set down in verses with line breaks emphasizing it, you won't see it and likely won't hear it: you won't perceive it at all.

If people who read it don't even notice that there's been this monumental effort to create a perfect ABAB piece of poetry that goes on for ages adhering flawlessly to the rhythmic structure... If there can be SO MUCH WORK and such achievement and nobody even notices it... what's the point of rhythm in language? What's it even for?

Well, the lesson is perfectly clear: "the role of language rhythm is in understanding speech."

More experiments were subsequently carried out in Spanish,
and in Catalan and Portuguese and Québécois and Dutch,
which in spite of minor variance did nothing that would banish
the conclusion that for hearers rhythm matters very much.


For hearers. But not, as she has spectacularly proven, for readers.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:11 PM on June 10 [12 favorites]


The written word in Classical Greece and Rome was generally :
Scriptio continua (Latin for "continuous script"), also known as scriptura continua or scripta continua, is a style of writing without spaces or other marks between the words or sentences. The form also lacks punctuation, diacritics, or distinguished letter case. In the West, the oldest Greek and Latin inscriptions used word dividers to separate words in sentences; however, Classical Greek and late Classical Latin both employed scriptio continua as the norm.[1][2]
[…]
Typically, the reader of the text was a trained performer, who would have already memorised the content and breaks of the script.[citation needed] During the reading performances, the scroll acted as a cue sheet and therefore did not require in-depth reading.[citation needed]

The lack of word parsing forced the reader to distinguish elements of the script without a visual aid, but it also presented the reader with more freedom to interpret the text. The reader had the liberty to insert pauses and dictate tone, which made the act of reading a significantly more subjective activity than it is today. However, the lack of spacing also led to some ambiguity because a minor discrepancy in word parsing could give the text a different meaning. For example, a phrase written in scriptio continua as collectamexiliopubem may be interpreted as collectam ex Ilio pubem, meaning "a people gathered from Troy", or collectam exilio pubem, "a people gathered for exile". Thus, readers had to be much more cognisant of the context to which the text referred.[4]

Decline[edit]
Over time, the current system of rapid silent reading for information replaced the older, slower, and more dramatic performance-based reading,[5] and word dividers and punctuation became more beneficial to text.[6] Though paleographers disagree about the chronological decline of scriptio continua throughout the world, it is generally accepted that the addition of spaces first appeared in Irish and Anglo-Saxon Bibles and Gospels from the seventh and eighth centuries.[7]: 21  Subsequently, an increasing number of European texts adopted conventional spacing, and within the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, all European texts were written with word separation.[7]: 120–121 
In other words, word spacing in writing allows readers to read without sounding out the words in their heads.

And spaces between words were specifically eschewed in order to force readers to hear what they were reading.

It’s as if there was something dangerous, profane, and perhaps even sacrilegious verging on the demonic about the idea of understanding language without hearing it in your head at the very least.

I’m not sure I can articulate why at the moment, but I think they were onto something. I treasure my ability to understand language without hearing it, but I do think it may help me avoid automatically believing what I read.

I can appreciate that this might not be considered a virtue by authors of sacred texts and authorities in general, however.
posted by jamjam at 11:02 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


Wow. I missed it completely the first time. Unlike most commenters it seems. Really impressed!
posted by M. at 12:42 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


This was proven clearly in an anecdotal manner when I briefly was acquainted with a student from abroad. It was immediately obvious that her spoken US English had a different stress and emphasis and so was very hard to parse. I found it quite amazing that a lifetime of exposure to this self-same US accent- via movies and the TV- seemed nonetheless irrelevant in making it comprehensible to me.
posted by Balthamos at 12:49 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


collectamexiliopubem

expertsexchange.com
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:50 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I picked up on it as close to instantly as I could perceive (as in, I was unaware of a time in which I had been reading it and not noticing the rhythm). As an anecdatum, I have decent but not outstanding visual-spatial imagination (oddly weaker now than it was when I was younger), but I have imaginary music playing in my head nearly constantly, so I may be primed to envision rhythm.
posted by NMcCoy at 3:48 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


...for those of you who didn't pick up on the rhythm of the article, did you notice the meter here, especially in the third and fourth lines?

Did I notice *a* meter? Yep, absolutely, there's a rhythm to that.

Did I notice the same meter you did? Not necessarily. We did an exercise on this once in an English lesson at school, with a verse from The Walrus and the Carpenter, and the rhythm I tapped out was different from everyone else's - half the number of beats, if I recall.

I struggle to identify the beats in music, too. Can't tell if people are dancing in time to it, for instance.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:21 AM on June 11


I would be totally curious about whether people who are neurodiverse are more likely to notice the rhyme and the rhythm.

Data point: I'm neurodiverse, but I'm also both detail-focused and very very very written-word-and-meaning-focused. I did not notice the rhymes or the rhythm till the content clued me into it at the end.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:25 AM on June 11


Well I didn't get it till I came to the comments. Although if I had got it, I would have hated it: that rhythm
Tum ti-tumpty tumpty tumpty, tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tumpty
tum ti-tumpty tum ti-tumpty, tumpty-tum ti-tum ti-tum

has served some of the most banal verse in the English language. As well as some of the most gorgeous, yes! But as with anything there's much more of the banal stuff to get fed up with than the good stuff. Victorian hymns. Music Hall, Comic Opera, 'improving' rhymes for children. Readers efforts in The People's Friend. The expectations from that persist, at least to me.

But, OH!OH!OH! As jamjam explained above, that's why, when manuscripts were written without word spaces, people had to read aloud to get the sense of a text! I'd read somewhere an anecdote about a mediaeval monk who could read aloud and people came from far and wide just to watch him silently turning pages. A search for that anecdote led to so many results:
The beginning of silent reading changed Westerners' interior life
Have we always read silently? An interview with Professor ...
Was Silent Reading Unusual During Augustine's Time? (Why St Augustine was surprised of St Ambrose's reading habits?)
Reading silently didn't happen until the dark ages, when ...
At Some Point We Started Reading Silently. But When? - Bookstr

And so on and on. Looks like a whole thing, or area of study. Which to be fair, is well-indicated by the text in question. Which is fantastic by the way.
posted by glasseyes at 6:06 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Is anybody else now reading everything in tum ti-tumpty rhythm and rhyme scheme, and making quick edits as they go to make everything fit perfectly...? No? Just me, huh? CoolThat'sCool...

This was proven [very] clearly in an anecdotal manner when I briefly was acquainted with a student from abroad. [T'was] immediately obvious [...] her spoken US English had a different stress and emphasis[, so parsing it was odd]. I found it quite amazing that a lifetime of exposure to this self-same US accent- via movies and [...] TV- seemed nonetheless irrelevant in making it-

[guh! Hrrrgh...]

[pauses for some wall-eyed Renfield gnat-snatching, gibbers softly while staring at nothing, runs out of the room clutching hair]
posted by Don Pepino at 6:11 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]


But as with anything there's much more of the banal stuff to get fed up with than the good stuff. Victorian hymns. Music Hall, Comic Opera, 'improving' rhymes for children. Readers efforts in The People's Friend. The expectations from that persist, at least to me.

If you let yourself be put off by that kind of expectation every time you're offered something in a genre you abhor, then you'll filter what you're willing to try out with such vocation that it won't be long before you're reading nothing any more. It's becoming fully normal for a mindless algorithm to be put in charge of choosing what we see and what we hear, but the cost of doing that's a similarity of rhythm that inevitably narrows our experience, I fear.

For although it seems at first that all we'll get is what we want and that a cornucopia of what we want is there on tap, there's a danger that an inner form of Sturgeon's Law will manifest and render nine in ten of what we used to love as crap.

I would rather keep spontaneous delight at finding one in ten of lovely things that stand out from a random milieu, than to pick a team and choose a side and limit my exposure to a tiny range of genres just cos most are mostly poo.
posted by flabdablet at 7:46 AM on June 11 [11 favorites]




As a student I used to earn some extra pocket money as a test subject for the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen, where Cutler, the author of this article, did her research.

I remember lots of reaction time tests, tests where I had to state the colour of a word rather than the names of colours themselves, first in Dutch and then in English, as quickly as possible. Sometimes I had to look at pictures but hear a different word and click when the two did not coincide, shapes or animals for example. I vaguely remember tests that were slightly disconcerting, with stuff attached to my head, sound over headphones and visuals that distracted from what I was hearing, but I can’t remember what the test entailed. Most of the time it was fun, and I loved discussing the cognitive and linguistic background of the tests afterwards with the researchers in a bar (so much for that pocket money).

It is possible I may have run into her then, but I honestly can’t remember. Sad to see she has passed away. I read her obituary on the university’s website last week, and I am glad to see her work posted on the blue and generating an interesting discussion. There was also mention of her work and what a wonderful person she was on the Language Log website.
posted by fregoli at 8:01 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


No! No patchwork!
posted by flabdablet at 8:07 AM on June 11


Is anybody else now reading everything in rhyme and rhythm?

Don Pepino, absolutely. It was happening for the whole day. Honestly infuriating. Though some fragments turned out lovely, such as this from jamjam's comment:

It’s as if there's something dangerous, profane, perhaps sacrilegious verging on the quite demonic about understanding language without hearing it in your head

(Note: both quotes have unmarked changes.)
posted by What is E. T. short for? at 8:54 AM on June 11


I spent a chunk of yesterday with I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General pushing to the forefront of the music in my brain.
posted by cortex at 9:06 AM on June 11


Poesy was always what let me down in my English degree 💔
posted by Balthamos at 9:53 AM on June 11


Here I sit, broken-hearted; came to rhyme and made a botch of the scansion too
posted by flabdablet at 2:31 PM on June 11 [7 favorites]


I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General pushing to the forefront of the music in my brain.
My sympathies. At least it wasn't Augustus was a chubby lad, fat ruddy cheeks Augustus had, and Everybody saw with joy the plump and hearty healthy boy.
By the way, On the last day, He was Dead. That's what you get for not eating your soup. Better let the past draw a veil over what happens to those who suck their thumbs.

flabdablet, I seem to have made your own point back at you on another thread, which is a weird thing! Perhaps, although at cross purposes here, we think alike? I think this paper on rhythm is wonderful: informative, engaging and so cleverly formulated. But if I had got a whiff of The door flew open, in he ran, the great long red-legged Scissor Man! before reading, it might not have seemed quite so delightful. Needing hindsight to appreciate it enhances the tricksiness, and shows just how good the trick is. Although I'm aware she was amazed so many people didn't get the rhyming couplets at all and tricksiness was by no means her original intention.
posted by glasseyes at 4:04 AM on June 12


I got it right away, but I have also had a much higher level of exposure to the Modern Major General song than most people and I feel like that was a factor.
posted by yohko at 12:19 AM on June 14


Just realised something: it’s possible that the meter she chose is close enough to the beat patterns (a thing in linguistics that I’ve forgotten the proper term for) of English that it’s a perfect choice for subterfuge.
posted by lokta at 3:38 AM on June 14


In short, to pick the rhythmical in writing academical it's hard to beat exposure to the Modern Major General.
posted by flabdablet at 6:11 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Linguist Gareth Roberts has uploaded (with Anne Cutler's husband's permission) the text of the Christmas letter referred to in the paper, the one whose rhymes no one commented on.

(It's a little easier for me to see the rhyme in the Christmas letter than in the linguistics paper, though probably only because I know what I'm looking for? But to my mind it doesn't read quite as smoothly as normal conversational English.)
posted by Jeanne at 12:19 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Wow, this is great. The unusual phraseology led me to think something was up, but it took me until nearly the end to figure out what. I had an “ohhhh…” moment, then went back and read it again, and the rhyme and rhythm only revealed itself with much more careful reading.

Perception is weird stuff. This is like those visual stunts where you could swear the grey spot on the black background is much lighter than the one on the white background. Except with words.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:16 PM on June 14


I'm an ESL reader, neurotypical as far as I can tell, and I picked up there was some kind of rhythm after a couple of sentences, but did not notice the rhyming at all.
posted by Harald74 at 11:36 PM on June 14


BTW, I've read a bit of English poetry the last couple of years, and have been delighted by poems I gather natives find trite and overused. Maybe especially if you've been force-fed them at school. But there's a reason they are classics, after all.
posted by Harald74 at 11:53 PM on June 14


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