Alligator Goodbyes

My grand-daughter Opal showed up for breakfast this morning wearing a new t-shirt her mother had found for her on the Threadless site:

By Kacie Mills, the shirt has 14 instances of a verse form that I’ll call the Alligator Goodbye, on the model of “see you later, alligator” (at the top of the shirt).

An Alligator Goodbye is a verse form, in trochaic tetrameter, a single line divided in two parts, G (a goodbye, e.g. see you later) and V (a vocative referring to a creature, e.g. alligator); G and V rhyme. The perfect metrical pattern is

S W S W / S W S W

(where S indicates a strongly accented syllable, W a weakly accented syllable, and / the division between G and V. When a half-line has two S’s in it, the stronger of the two is marked by boldfacing: S.)

The form allows for a lot of variation. In particular, a half-line can be missing its final W, as in #2 below. Here’s the whole set, marked up metrically:

1. see you later, alligator: S W S W / S W S W

2. keep it real, spotted seal: S W S / S W S

3. in a few, cockatoo: S W S / S W S (or with accent reversal on cockatoo)

4. adieu, caribou: W S / S W S (iambic reversal in G) [depends on anglicized pronunciation of adieu]

5. take care, black bear: S S / S S

6. bye, bye, fruit fly: S S / S S

7. ciao, brown cow: S / S S (only one S in G)

8. good luck, silly duck: S S / S W S

9. see you soon, big baboon: S W S / S W S

10. another time, porcupine: W S W S / S W S (or with accent reversal on porcupine; note half-rhyme)

11. best wishes, little fishes: S S W /S W S W

12. peace out, river trout: S S / S W S

13. gotta go, buffalo: S W S / S W S (or with accent reversal on buffalo)

14. have a good day, sting ray: S W W S / S S (or with accent reversal on sting ray)

plus the classic response to #1 (not on the t-shirt):

15. in a while, crocodile: S W S / S W S (or with accent reversal on crocodile)

Bonus: another Threadless shirt (by tenso GRAPHICS), on a mathematical theme:

Yes, a Venn diagram. And the intersection of a beaver and a duck is a …?

9 Responses to “Alligator Goodbyes”

  1. *No/Deli* Says:

    Ah, the old platypus & keytar joke.

  2. Ben Zimmer Says:

    In Slang: The People’s Poetry (pp. 114-5), Michael Adams talks about the broader class of “rhyming salutations, farewells, and queries.” He notes that “What’s your story, morning glory” is attested back to 1944. He also talks about inventing new rhymes with his wife, like “How’s it goin’, protozoan.”

  3. Ellen K. Says:

    For me, real and seal don’t rhyme. Real instead rhymes with ill (and doesn’t rhyme with eel). (Exception: real estate). Is that unusual? None of the online dictionaries I’ve checked recognize that pronunciation, but I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Ah, you have lowering/laxing of /i/ before /l/, well attested, and discussed in the sociophonetic literature. One of the complexities is that for many speakers it seems to be lexeme-specific. Probably real is affected because of its high frequency, and seal spared because of its lower frequency.

      Yeah, not just you.

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Aric Olnes on Facebook:

    Cheerio, my pretty doe.
    Wes Gesund, you hot dachshund.

  5. Ben Hemmens Says:

    Didn’t Bobby McFerrin start this?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Far from it. See the Wikipedia entry. The phrase was incorporated into a song in the 1950s, made famous by the recording by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955, released in 1956. (I long ago had a copy of the Rock Around the Clock album with the song on it.) But the catchphrase was current before that.

      Bobby McFerrin was born in 1950.

  6. arnold zwicky Says:

    And now on ADS-L from Jon Lighter, 12/4/11:

    I’ve been hearing this salutation [“What’s shakin’, bacon?”] daily on a Progressive Insurance commercial for weeks. Urban Dictionary has it only from May 8, 2011, but this site takes it back to 2007, with other similar inquiries, some perhaps nonce:

    A surprising rejuvenation of an old pattern from the ’40s: “What’s
    buzzin’, cousin?” “What’s the story, morning glory?”

    Of course, “See you later, alligator” (’50s) and the response “In a
    while, crocodile” have never quite disappeared. (I have a friend who used to say, “On the Nile….”)

    And a follow-up from Jon:

    I heard “Not too soon, you big baboon!” in 1970 as a comeback to “See you later, alligator!”

    It’s in HDAS in the citation block for “baboon.”

    I am reminded of the elocutionary cliche’, “How now, brown cow?”

    Could this have been the progenitor? (I’ve never encountered it used as a salutation, but Urbandictionary has.)

    I heard it from my grandparents in the 1950s. GB appears to have it from 1926.

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