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Shake the ketchup to the King of Bum

Shake, shake the ketchup bottle,
First none'll come, and then a lot'll.

No, the famous U.S. humorist Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was NOT the author of that immortal couplet, although many people claim he was. (He DID write Candy / is dandy / But liquor / is quicker.)

One website, noting that August 19 was the anniversary of Nash's birthday, gave this circumstantial but misleading account: "One summer afternoon in 1930, he jotted down a little nonsense poem and sent it to The New Yorker. The magazine bought it, and asked for more. Nash moved to Baltimore and for the next 40 years made his living entirely off of poems like You shake and shake the ketchup bottle, nothing comes, and then a lot'll."

Nonsense! According to Nash's grand-daughter, Frances R. Smith of Baltimore, Maryland, (and she should know) what he actually wrote was:

The Catsup Bottle
First a little
Then a lottle

(Catsup is another American word for ketchup. Brits and Aussies call it tomato sauce.)

Then, in 1949, another US humorist, Richard Willard Armour (1906-1989), seems to have gleefully seized on Nash's rhyme, and produced the couplet that many people enjoy reciting to this day.

Armour was a master of the comical one-liner. Here are three of his aphorisms:

  • Middle age is the time of life / that a man first notices in his wife.
  • It's all right to hold a conversation, but you should let go of it now and then.
  • A rumor is one thing that gets thicker instead of thinner as it is spread.

Apart from lot'll, it's not difficult to find a suitable rhyme for bottle. We can think of throttle, wattle, dottle (a plug of tobacco remaining in a pipe after a smoke), glottal and mottle.

Ogden Nash found a rhyme for parsley by slightly changing the spelling of ghastly. He wrote Parsley / is gharstly.

Dozens of internet sites assert that nothing rhymes with four other common words: three colors, orange, purple, and silver, and the word month, but that's not quite true. Let's see what a web search turns up:

ORANGE. "No word rhymes with Orange," says "In an episode of the old children's TV show H. R. Pufnstuf, the character Witchiepoo sang a song that went:

Oranges poranges, who says, oranges poranges,
who says, oranges poranges, who says--
there ain't no rhyme for oranges!

"But unless you want to resort to using a nonsense word, you had better rewrite your verse so another word comes at the end of the line!"

Well, how about sporange? It's not a nonsense word, nor is it in most dictionaries. Webster’s Third Unabridged and the Oxford English Dictionary both describe it as a variant of sporangium, a botanical term. Webster’s indicates that it can be pronounced as rhyming with orange, or as spuh-randj (stressing the second syllable), while Oxford allows only the second pronunciation, which ruins the rhyme.

Seven years ago, artist and author David Lance Goines suggested that "Door hinge rhymes with orange satisfactorily enough," but we can't pay that one. He mentioned the children's game Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's.

It wouldn't sound quite right if the kids chanted Lemons and oranges, say the squeaky door hinges.

In his amusing book "Adventures of a Verbivore" US language expert and best-selling author Richard Lederer wrote:

It's not true that no words rhyme with orange . . . However, there was a man -- I'm not kidding -- named Henry Honeychurch Gorringe. He was a naval commander who in the midnineteenth century oversaw the transport of Cleopatra's Needle to New York's Central Park. Pouncing on this event, the poet Arthur Guiterman wrote:

In Sparkhill buried lies a man of mark
Who brought the Obelisk to Central Park,
Redoubtable Commander H. H. Gorringe,
Whose name supplies the long-sought rhyme for orange.

So orange is rhymable.

PURPLE. What about curple? Plymouth, New Hampshire (US) blogger WttyGrrl (Amanda L. Conaway) says:

Don't ever let someone tell you nothing rhymes with purple. Hogwash. Hurple rhymes with purple, curple rhymes with purple. Hurple is a Scottish word still used in Scotland. It means to hobble, or walk with a limp. A curple is a strap under the girth of a horse's saddle to stop the saddle kicking forward.

MONTH. How about oneth? Discussing Dodie Smith's book The Hundred and One Dalmatians, a reviewer wrote: "This is the original novel, published in 1956, from which the movie adaptations were made--poorly... How many people know who the actual 101th dalmatian was?"

And on a genealogy site, we found this message, posted on February 29, 2004, from Kevin Oneth:

I am a descendent on Adam Oneth. My Great Grandfather is Daniel Oneth who was married to Cora Dell McKitrick.

Of course, there are hundreds of stories read by seven-year-olds with missing front teeth, which begin Oneth upon a time.

An Irish blogger, Sinéad Gibney, of Dublin, shows a photo of a poster advertising The 21th Annual Warriors Run. She says:

I just had to post this pic from a lovely weekend I had in Co. Sligeach. The warriors run is a fairly gruelling run up and down a mountain held in the hottest part of the Irish summer: I know I’m a pedantic cow, but I just had to laugh. Such a big sign, and why not make the effort to do a quick ’st’?

[Sinéad (pronounced Sin-aid) is a diminutive form of the French name Jeanne. That's Jane or Janet in English. And Co. Sligeach is County Sligo, and means "place of shells.".]

SILVER. Discussing his family name, Trevar Chilver says

The Oxford English Dictionary lists chilver as an Old English noun meaning a ewe lamb, often referred to as a 'chilver lamb'. They specify that it is still in use in 'southern dialects' (by which I assume they mean dialects in southern England, as it is certainly not known in the Australian dialect). The Oxford cites instances between 1000AD and 1883AD.

There's a Chilver Street in the London (UK) borough of Greenwich. So poets could write:

Jewellers sell gold and silver,
In the street that bears the name of Chilver.

Elizabeth Millicent (Sally) Chilver (b. 1914) a London Daily News journalist 1945-47, became a distinguished political scientist and anthropologist. The British Library of Political and Economic Science says she studied "the anthropology of the Cameroon grasslands... covering subjects including matrilineal society, witchcraft, magic and divination, with notes on the authors by Chilver; working notes on the Kingdom of Bum in the north-west province of Cameroon."

That's right: the Kingdom of Bum. We thought that must be a spoof. Not so. Take a look at the Kingdom of Bum, and Fonfuka and Lagabum websites. Fascinating!


  • POSTSCRIPT. Readers of this story have told us of two rhymes for orange: forange and Blorange. See FEEDBACK.

Story first posted February 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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