Revisiting 29: chants/chance

From Karen Chung on her (public) Facebook group NTU Phonetics yesterday, this texty cartoon with a pun:


The joke turns on the (perceptual) homophony of chants and chance, parallel to the cents / sense and prints / prince cases in my 3/27/19 posting “Two cents, common sense, incense, and peppermints”.

(Also, to understand the joke, you need to know about Gregorian chant.)

The crucial lexical items, from NOAD:

verb chant: [a] (with object) say or shout repeatedly in a singsong tone: protesters were chanting slogans | (with direct speech): the crowd chanted, “No violence!”. [b] sing or intone (a psalm, canticle, or sacred text).

[chant-b is historically the older sense; chant-a is a metaphorical development from this, the singsong tone of chanting-a sounding like the tunes of chanted-b texts]

noun chant: 1 [a] a repeated rhythmic phrase, typically one shouted or sung in unison by a crowd. [2] a monotonous or repetitive song, typically an incantation or part of a ritual. 2 Music [a] a short musical passage in two or more phrases used for singing unmetrical words; a psalm or canticle sung to such music. [b] the style of music consisting of chants: Gregorian chant. [the joke in #1 has chants-2]

[these are nounings: chant-1 of the verb chant-a, chant-2 of the verb chant-b]

noun chance: 1 [a] a possibility of something happening: there is little chance of his finding a job | a chance of victory. [b] (chances) the probability of something happening: he played down his chances of becoming chairman. [c] (in singular) an opportunity to do or achieve something: I gave her a chance to answer. [d]  a ticket in a raffle or lottery. …2 the occurrence and development of events in the absence of any obvious design: he met his brother by chance | what a lucky chance that you are here. [the joke in #1 has chance-1c]

[chance-2, referring to what happens, especially by accident, is historically the older sense; after that, according to OED2, comes something like chance-1c, ‘something that happens to come one’s way’ (with the involvement of an experiencer); and then the generalized likelihood sense ‘the possibility or probabiity’ of something happening]

Musical chants. There are a number of traditions for chanting the texts that are part of Christian church services; the Gregorian tradition is only one of these, though it’s the one that has become the chant style recognized by the general public. The tradition I’m best acquainted with, however, is the Anglican one. (I’m a non-believer, but the church I’m not affiliated with is specifically the liberal branch of the American Episcopal church.)

From Wikipedia:

(#2) Westminster Abbey at Evensong

Anglican chant, also known as English chant, is a way to sing unmetrical texts, including psalms and canticles from the Bible, by matching the natural speech-rhythm of the words to the notes of a simple harmonized melody. This distinctive type of chant is a significant element of Anglican church music.

Wonderful stuff. One small example:

(#3) Anglican Chant: Psalm 102 (Domine, exaudi), sung by the choir of Ely Cathedral (wait for the organ’s entry)

What are the chances? A fascinating treatise on society, psychology, philosophy, and mathematics: The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability, Induction and Statistical Inference, by the philosopher Ian Hacking (1975, 2nd ed. 2006); from Hacking’s Wikipedia page:


Hacking proposed that the modern schism between subjective or personalistic probability, and the long-run frequency interpretation, emerged in the early modern era as an epistemological “break” involving two incompatible models of uncertainty and chance. As history, the idea of a sharp break has been criticized, but competing ‘frequentist’ and ‘subjective’ interpretations of probability still remain today.

One Response to “Revisiting 29: chants/chance”

  1. [BLOG] Some Thursday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky has fun with a cartoon that plays on a pun between the words chants and […]

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