I’m on Lexicon Valley talking about the history of metrical terms and some of the differences between English and Latin/Ancient Greek.
If you paid any attention at all in high school English, you probably remember iambic pentameter, most likely from reading Shakespeare, and perhaps even other meters like trochaic tetrameter (the meter of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, among other things). And if you had an English teacher who was especially instructive in etymology, you may have learned that iambic pentameter takes its name from several Greek roots that translate roughly as “five metrical feet.”
But wait. Greek and English meter don’t work in the same way, so how did we come to use Greek poetic terminology to describe English verse? (Read the rest.)
I glossed over the ways that Latin poetry actually differs somewhat from Ancient Greek poetry, but if you’re looking for more, this Wikipedia article is a good place to start.
Also, I couldn’t fit it in the article, but while writing it I discovered that apparently Hey Diddle Diddle used to be far longer and had quite a different meter. (Edit: apparently this version is actually newer and by JRR Tolkein. It’s still great though.) Here’s an excerpt, but it’s worth reading the full thing aloud:
Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.
With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke!
the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.
I also found this delightful example of tap-dancing to iambic pentameter in the first 30 seconds of this clip from Love’s Labours Lost.
I’ve been writing about poetry a lot lately: there’s trochaic tetrameter and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there’s Hey Diddle Diddle in ASL, and I have an upcoming puzzle in Schwa Fire. The full solution will be up next week for subscribers, but in the meantime you can try to answer it yourself to win a subscription. (Or get a subscription, if you can: Schwa Fire is pretty cool, and subscribing lets them pay contributors like me!)