Twirly and girly

The One Big Happy from 6/5, in which Ruthie struggles, eggcornishly, to rationalize an unfamiliar name with familiar parts:

Mary, Susan, whatever.

Meanwhile, I now have “Honey Bun” from South Pacific in my head:

Her hair is blond and curly,
Her curls are hurly-burly.
Her lips are pips!
I call her hips
‘Twirly’ and ‘Whirly.’

On the device and its name, see my 2/17/11 posting “Chinese lazy Susan”. The name is originally American and so, it seems, is the device, though the object has a complex history ending up with its being associated with Chinese restaurants (especially in the US). From OED2:

Lazy Susan  n. (also lazy susan) originally U.S. a revolving (wooden) stand on a table to hold condiments, etc.; a muffin stand. [1st cite 1917]

Then there’s Ruthie’s engaging association of female names and revolving devices: lazy Susan and (as Ruthie has it) Mary-go-round (for merry-go-round). The historical distinction between (lower, more open, shorter, laxer) [ɛ] in merry and (higher, more closed, longer, tenser) [e]  in Mary has been steadily eroding (in favor of [ɛ]) in American English (similarly in other pairs, like ferry – fairy and Kerry – Carey), and that makes Mary-go-round a natural understanding for Ruthie.

(Meanwhile, in a separate development, [æ] in marry, Barry, parry etc. has been falling together with [ɛ] in merry, berry, Perry etc. in large areas of the US. Combined with the [e] – [ɛ] collapse, that gives us homophonous hairy and Harry (both with [ɛ], in the varieties I’m talking about here) and the wonderful homophonous triple Mary – merry – marry (all with [ɛ]). I have all three distinct.)

[Addendum 8/4: alert readers might have noted the poetic form of the verse from “Honey Bun”: it’s a limerick: four lines of iambic tetrameter, written as five; lines 1, 2, and 4 rhyme and are all short (with a rest as their 4th beat); line 3 has a different, internal rhyme.]

4 Responses to “Twirly and girly”

  1. Mitch4 Says:

    Merrie Christmas Park in Miami
    was named for a real person, the daughter of a political family. Locally, people would speak of “[Former] Mayor Christmas and his daughter Mary” and I assumed she spelled it ‘Mary’. That did not feel like a near-miss in the pronunciation that would ruin the pun. But apparently when they recorded it as ‘Merrie’ they thought it was necessary.

    (I am trying to find again a source I once saw which asserted her name at birth was something else and changed to Merrie.)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      It’s really hard to tell just *what* was going on here. We don’t know how the relevant people pronounced the words in question (I know a bit about their pronunciation in the Deep South, but southern Florida is a different dialect area entirely); people who have homophonous Mary and merry are still capable of playing with spelling; and in any case, imperfect puns are quite enjoyable as they stand, and some are judged more clever than perfect puns (turning on homophony).

      • Robert Coren Says:

        For what it’s worth, the narrator of Shirley Jackson’s novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, whose given names are Mary Catherine, is nicknamed “Merricat”.

  2. Sim Aberson Says:

    Merrie Christmas lived 1954-1969, when Miami was a sleepy deep-south town. I moved to Miami in 1972, and the predominant accent at that time (aside from the Jews of Miami Beach) was a southern drawl – the town was My-am-uh. The Christmas family was from Ocilla, GA, so I’d think that a deep-South pronunciation was likely.

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