Morning: monotreme, marsupial

The morning names a little while back came as a pair (monotreme, marsupial) — with related referents (both are taxonomically eccentric mammals) and names that are somewhat similar phonologically. And in sequence they made a nicely metrical line.

And that led me into a certain amount of silly language play.

Monotremes. From NOAD2:

a primitive mammal that lays large yolky eggs and has a common opening for the urogenital and digestive systems [as in birds — a cloaca]. Monotremes are now restricted to Australia and New Guinea, and comprise the platypus and the echidnas [aka spiny anteaters]. ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from mono- ‘single’ + Greek trēma ‘hole’

Additional factual information from Wikipedia:

Like other mammals, monotremes are warm-blooded with a high metabolic rate (though not as high as other mammals …); have hair on their bodies; produce milk through mammary glands to feed their young; have a single bone in their lower jaw; and have three middle-ear bones.

On the name echidna, from Wikipedia:

The echidnas are named after Echidna, a creature from Greek mythology who was half-woman, half-snake, as the animal was perceived to have qualities of both mammals and reptiles.


Information on the platypus, with an etymology for the name (from the Greek for ‘flat-footed’) is in a posting of 11/5/13. A platypus in the water:


Observe the beaver-like fur and tail, the duck-like bill, and those flat, heavily clawed feet.

Preliminary to silliness: from the etymologies, it’s clear that any monotreme could be nicknamed “One-Hole”, and that a platypus could be nicknamed “Flatfoot”.

Platypuses for the kids. Platypuses are attractively weird creatures, so they’ve been featured in books and animated cartoons for kids. In characters with alliterative names.

First, there are books about a character named Peter Platypus. There’s Sam Epstein’s 1946 book Peter Platypus (published by Robert Speller):

a story of a little-known Australian animal, the duck-billed platypus, and of how he made friends with a duck, a beaver, a muskrat.

And then there’s Inez Hogan’s 1948 book — the 40s seem to have been the Decade of the Playpus — in the E.P. Dutton Read to Me series, About Peter Platypus:

Peter the Platypus, hearing his grandfather say “Platypuses are peculiar”, sets out to find out what the other animals in the world are like.

On to animation, and Perry (the) Platypus. From Wikipedia:

Perry the Platypus, also known as Agent P [or Perry Platypus] or simply Perry, is an anthropomorphic platypus from the animated television series Phineas and Ferb [an American animated comedy-musical television series. … [which] officially premiered on February 1, 2008 on the Disney Channel]. Perry was created by the series’ co-founders, Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh. He first appeared along with the majority of the main cast in the pilot episode “Rollercoaster.” Perry is featured as the star of the B-plot for every episode of the series, alongside his nemesis Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. A mostly silent character, his lone vocal characteristic (a rattling of Perry’s beak) was provided by Dee Bradley Baker.

Perry is the pet platypus of the Flynn-Fletcher family, and is perceived as mindless and domesticated. In secret, however, he lives a double life as a member of an all-animal espionage organization referred to as the O.W.C.A. (The Organization Without a Cool Acronym).

Perry in action:


Adult PPs. Now I turn to what happened to Perry Platypus and Peter Platypus when they grew up — and became Perry “Flatfoot” Platypus and Peter “One-Hole” Platypus.

Perry Flatfoot is a hard-bitten detective in the noir tradition. Still mostly silent. Silent and strong. His buddies in espionage now work as operatives for him, tracking down scumbags and clearing the streets of them, not always respecting the legalities of the matter.

As for Peter, what his grandfather said to him was actually “Platypuses are queer”. Guided by that, his phallic first name, and his own sexual proclivities, where he treated his anus as a sexual organ (see my 7/26/13 posting on the ‘male anus viewed as a sexual organ’), he became Peter “One-Hole” Platypus, a hunky gay pornstar, specializing in hungry bottom roles. Some people in the business treated him rather less delicately and indirectly, calling him, not Peter One-Hole, but Peter Cunt-Boy — though Peter himself refused to be demeaned, and defiantly celebrated the nickname.

Marsupials. From NOAD2, which identifies a marsupial as

a mammal of an order whose members are born incompletely developed and are typically carried and suckled in a pouch on the mother’s belly. Marsupials are found mainly in Australia and New Guinea, although three families, including the opossums, live in America. ORIGIN late 17th cent. (in the sense ‘resembling a pouch’): from modern Latin marsupialis, via Latin from Greek marsupion ‘pouch’

Further information from Wikipedia:

Marsupials are an infraclass of mammals living primarily in Australasia and the Americas. A distinctive characteristic, common to most species, is that the young are carried in a pouch. Well-known marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, the koala, possums, opossums, wombats and the Tasmanian devil. Other marsupials include the numbat, bandicoots, bettongs, the bilby, quolls, and the quokka [wonderful names, all from Australian aboriginal languages, except for bandicoot, which is from Telugu, a Dravidian language of India].

The expression monotreme, marsupial. Even if you just intend to pronounce these as two words in sequence, you’re likely to give in to the metricality of the expression, with its alternating accented and unaccented syllables, to the point of treating the last syllable of marsupial (unaccented when the word is pronounced in isolation) as having a secondary accent, so that the expression has the metrical pattern SW.SW.SW.S — a line of trochaic tetrameter with a truncated final foot, S rather than SW.

[Digression: a playful exercise. You might want to play with devising sequences of two alliterative nouns that are metrically like monotreme, marsupial. For instance, paragon, perfectionist.]

Now, trochaic tetrameter is by far the dominant poetic meter in “the music of the people” — nursery rhymes, folk songs, and rock music, among other things. Look at Stephen Stills’s “All I Know is What You Tell Me”, the first track on his 1968 album Just Roll Tape. Listen here:

The title (also many of the other lines) is perfect trochaic tetrameter. An added wrinkle is that the last two syllables of these lines are both accented, lengthened in Stills’s performance.

There are complexities here. In trochaic tetrameter, there’s considerable allowable variation: a line can have an upbeat W at the beginning, the final SW can be truncated, and extra Ws are allowable in some places within the line. I’ll go through an extended example in a little while.

(Note. In a full and careful analysis, we need to distinguish the rhythms of ordinary conversational speech, the metrical patterns of poetry, and musical rhythms.)

A further example, from rap music, of all places, in “Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First” (2015) by the rapper Father, which starts with a recitation of the children’s lullaby “Hush, Little Baby” (coming up in that same little while) and then goes through two SW.SW.SW.S lines

“All I know is what I got, all you know is what you want”

A video:

The lullaby. On the song, from Wikipedia:

“Hush, Little Baby” is a traditional lullaby, thought to have been written in the United States (mockingbirds are from the New World), but the author and date of origin are unknown. The lyrics promise all kinds of rewards to the child if he or she is quiet. The simple structure allows more verses to be added ad lib.

The song comes in rhymed couplets, the lines primarily SW.SW.SW.S, but with considerable variation, for instance:

Hush, little baby, don’t you cry: SWW.SW.SW.S (extra W in the first foot)

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word: SWW.SW.SWW.S (extra Ws in feet 1 and 3)

If that mockingbird don’t sing: SW.SW.SW.S (the model line)

And if that cart and bull turn over: WSW.SW.SW.SW (trochaic tetrameter, but with upbeat W)

In the rhyming couplets, the second line always begins with “Mama’s/Papa’s gonna buy you a” (“gonna sing you a” in the first verse), which is SWWW.SWW (two extra Ws in the first foot, one extra W in the second).

How does this stuff fit into the music? The music is in 4/4, with two measures per poetic line, and extra W’s are accommodated in the obvious way. But what’s the melodic pattern? There is some variation allowed here, but there are two basic patterns. Assuming that the song is in the key of F (and using C↓ to indicate the C below the tonic F), these are:

C↓ A A B | A G G:  (a)

C↓ G G G-A | G F F:  (b)

Melody (a) is used for the first line of a couplet, (b) for the second.

A performance:

And the music:


Now these patterns can be used to sing or play any SW.SW.SW.S line, including monotreme, marsupial — for which you could sing the line twice, using (a) then (b), or if you only want to do it once, you should use (b), to get a cadence.

One Response to “Morning: monotreme, marsupial”

  1. Joseph F Foster Says:

    Trochaic tetrameter also can include long epic poetry — like the Finnish Kalevala, a lot of which the compiler – composer picked up from the villagers — mostly in Karelia, I think. And Longfellow used it as a model for Song of Hiawatha.

    Occasionally we hear someone tongue in cheek using a Latinate plural for (o)possum, thus “possi” or, rarely, “possa”. The word of course is from Algonquin, so keeping the original plural would give us something like, *possum, which won’t climb a tree in English at all, or partially Anglicized to *possunk with velar assimilation of the nasal. But I’ve never heard these. I have heard or seen, though rarely, platypoda instead of platypuses

    And to get an Arkansas boy to eat armadillo, serve it to him at a fancy restaurant as Possum on the Half Shell.

Leave a Reply