Alex Steer

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Not as funny as it used to be

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1752 G. A. Stevens Distress upon Distress ii. i. 52 (note) His Interpretation is like the Foreigner's, who mistook the Words, under a Sign, Money for live Hair, to signify, Money for living here.

A wonderfully weak foreigner joke from the mid-18th century, made slightly interesting by the fact that 'hair' and 'here' are only a half-rhyme (if that) in modern English, but in 18th century London English rhymed much more closely (both sounding like modern English 'hair').

Compare what looks like the only half-rhymed (as opposed to full-rhymed) couplet in Blake's 'The Tyger' (in Songs of Innocence, 1794): 'What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?' These two, like the rest of the poem, were probably full rhymes in Blake's late 18th-century English.

Links: Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794), transcript and images.

# Alex Steer (29/02/2008)