November 05, 2003

For the metrically challenged

I was refereeing a phonology paper last week and being frustrated, yet again, by my non-grasp of the basic metrical terms. My linguist daughter came to my rescue with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's mnemonic verse (Metrical Feet, 1806), which I reproduce here in case someone else reading this might suffer from my metrical disability:

Trochee trips from long to short;
From long to long in solemn sort
Slow spondee stalks
-- Strong foot, yet ill able
Ever to keep up with dactyl's trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long;
With a leap and a bound the swift anapests throng.

This verse doesn't move me quite as much as the mnemonic I learned eons ago from my college German teacher; that one was designed to help us remember which cases went with which German prepositions. But once I commit it to memory, Coleridge's poem should help me avoid embarrassment when I find myself stumbling among phonologists' feet.

Posted by Sally Thomason at November 5, 2003 07:25 PM