Rhyme or reason

Today’s Bizarro, with an idiom and a nursery rhyme:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

So we have Humpty Dumpty, recently fallen from his wall, but no explanation of how this terrible event could have come to pass.

The rhyme. From Wikipedia:

Humpty Dumpty is a character in an English nursery rhyme, probably originally a riddle and one of the best known in the English-speaking world. Though not explicitly described so, he is typically portrayed as an anthropomorphic egg. The first recorded versions of the rhyme date from late eighteenth century England and the tune from 1870 in James William Elliott’s National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs.

The most common modern lyrics (there is, of course, consderable variation):

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

On the poetic form:

It is a single quatrain, with external [that is, end] rhymes that follow the pattern of AABB and with a trochaic metre [but with short final feet and with a fair number of dactyic feet], which is common in nursery rhymes.

A video with what seems to be a variant of the most common tune these days can be viewed here.

The idiom. From OED3 (June 2010) under rhyme, among phrasal cites:

P2. In conjunction or contrast with reason, (chiefly in negative contexts) as without rhyme or reason, neither rhyme nor reason, etc.: expressing lack of good sense or reasonableness. [first cite a1475]

[Probably originally after Middle French ne rime ne raison, ni rime ni raison, literally ‘neither rhyme nor reason’, in similar expressions (from the 13th cent. in Old French). Compare also collocation of Old Occitan rima and razo, apparently with the meanings ‘poetic form’ and ‘content’, in the mid 12th cent.; such an opposition may well ultimately lie behind the Middle French and Middle English uses. … ]

In the cartoon, the cops have the rhyme, in the sense that they know it, but as yet can see no reason; they’re unpacking the idiom into its parts.


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