hairy Harry and the asparagus

Today’s Rhymes With Orange, with a portmanteau:


That’s despair + asparagus. This is a stretch as a portmanteau for me, because the accented vowels in the two contributing words are distinct for me: [e] in despair, [æ] in asparagus. For me and some other American speakers — and for virtually all English speakers outside of North America. But for other Americans, the vowels are quite close (with [ɛ] in asparagus) or identical (with [e] in asparagus). This is merryMarymarry territory.

From John Wells’s phonetic blog, on “merry Mary and hairy Harry”, in answer to a query about British-American differences in these words:

It’s not just that “a higher proportion” of Brits distinguish the three sets. As far as I know, all do. To the best of my knowledge no native speakers of English outside north America lack the three-way distinction merryMarymarry (RP ˈmeri, ˈmeəri, ˈmæri). We do not rhyme sharing with herring. We do not rhyme clarity with prosperity.

Just as this fact may come as a surprise to Americans, and seem problematic and mysterious, so it can be a surprise for non-Americans to find that some Americans make no distinction. And Americans can therefore get confused over spelling in cases where we never would.

John offers two American misspellings of Merry Christmas that turn on the identity (for some Americans) of the three sets:



Then there’s Harry Potter, whose name is homophonous with hairy potter for a substantial number of North Americans. This opens the way to Hairy Potter jokes, Hairy Potter and Harry Potter being imperfect puns for some Americans, but perfect puns for others. My favorite image (from a great number that are available):


One Response to “hairy Harry and the asparagus”

  1. mae Says:

    LOUIE GOHMERT: “I cannot have a witness challenge my character! The attorney general will not cast aspersions on my asparagus!” … were they thinking of this recent interchange in Congress? Disparaging asparagus?

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