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Joel Spolsky asked what rhymes with orange. The official answer is, "Nothing," although a creative poet can get close by using half words, just the -nge part or resorting to place names and foreign words.

Does orange somehow violate the basic phonotactics of English? (And hence we wouldn't expect other English words to rhyme with it?)

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+1 this is an interesting question, strange that other colors don't have rhymes either such as purple and silver. –  Edward Tanguay Aug 7 '10 at 22:13
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That depends on who you ask. Even I wouldn't accept purple and people as rhymes, and I'm more liberal than most I know. –  kitukwfyer Aug 8 '10 at 17:04
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liver/sliver (not silver) rhyme - the others I would consider half-rhymes. –  njd Aug 9 '10 at 16:56
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@Edward: "Silver" rhymes with "chilver" (a female lamb), while "purple" rhymes with "curple" (the hindquarters of a horse) and "hirple" (to limp). The Oxford Rhyming Dictionary also gives "salver" (a serving tray) as a half-rhyme for "silver", and "lozenge" (a ◊) as a half-rhyme for "orange". –  RegDwigнt Aug 17 '10 at 13:32
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And here J.R.R Tolkien’s “Errantry”, where he uses an incredibly intricate rhyme and meter scheme: There was a merry passenger, / a messenger, a mariner: / he built a gilded gondola / to wander in, and had in her / a load of yellow oranges / and porridge for his provender; / he perfumed her with marjoram / and cardamom and lavender. He is using feminine half-rhymes in places, so messenger/passenger which is nearly perfect and oranges/porringer, which is still quite close, and sounds “right” in the overall poem, which does such things here and there. –  tchrist Jan 5 '13 at 0:21

3 Answers 3

up vote 59 down vote accepted

Firstly, orange does rhyme with a few words: there's the word 'sporange' in botany (and related words hypnosporange, macrosporange, and megasporange) whose American pronunciation rhymes with 'orange', there's a hill 'Blorenge' in Wales, and it has been claimed (perhaps humorously) that in some dialects, 'door-hinge' is pronounced to rhyme with 'orange'.

But this is not what you meant; you were asking about common English words. So the question is "What is so special about 'orange' that no other common words rhyme with it?"

Laura Wattenberg observes (bolding mine):

Here's a little pet peeve of mine: nothing rhymes with orange. You've heard that before, right? Orange is famous for its rhymelessness. There's even a comic strip called "Rhymes with Orange." Fine then, let me ask you something. What the heck rhymes with purple?

If you stop and think about it, you'll find that English is jam-packed with rhymeless common words. What rhymes with empty, or olive, or silver, or circle? You can even find plenty of one-syllable words like wolf, bulb, and beige. Yet orange somehow became notorious for its rhymelessness, with the curious result that people now assume its status is unique.

In fact, this notoriety of 'orange' is so unjustified that Wikipedia even has a long article called "List of English words without rhymes" — and it notes that the list is seriously incomplete (among words it includes are music, month, depth,…).

Mark Lieberman at the Language Log, in a post on Rhymes, tried a quick exercise classifying words into rhyme sets, and found that his script:

… revealed 50,344 rhyme equivalence classes (i.e. sets of rhyming words), of which 30,905 (61% of rhyme sets, 16% of words+pronunciations) are singletons.

In other words, 16% of words (about one in every six) have no rhymes at all! And among initial-stressed two-syllable words (like 'orange'), he found 26% of words had no rhymes at all.

Though he admits there are bugs in the definition of rhyme he used, and it needs more detailed study, the general answer to "What is special about orange?" stands clear: nothing is special at all. There are a great many words in English without rhymes, and for some reason 'orange' gets mentioned as if it's somehow unique. There's no reason to expect every word to have a rhyme, and it's unsurprising that many words don't — you don't have to look to whether a word violates the phonotactics of English!

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But none of those references answer the OP: what phonotactic characteristics (in term of onset, nucleus and coda, or in term of Sonority hierarchy) of the word orange could explain its "rhymeless " ( but tasty ) state? Plus, one source disagrees with this "rhyme scheme". –  VonC Aug 7 '10 at 23:05
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Eh, I'm saying there's nothing special about orange, and given that there are dozens of words without common rhyming words, the question isn't so interesting. There just aren't other common rhyme words, so what? Why should you expect there to be? –  ShreevatsaR Aug 8 '10 at 0:09
    
Ok, I understand your answer better now. But I still find the question interesting and was hopping for a phonotactic specialist to point out why that word in particular (with its non-Latin, non-Greek origin) was in that category. –  VonC Aug 8 '10 at 0:14
    
@VonC: I've expanded the answer quite a bit; hope it's clearer now. I don't think there's any deep answer to the question, though of course I'll be glad to hear of any special properties that all these common rhymeless words have or don't have. –  ShreevatsaR Aug 8 '10 at 0:59
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Great answer! I couldn’t have said it better myself. –  nohat Aug 13 '10 at 5:02

The inimitable Tom Lehrer rhymed orange:

Eating an orange
While making love
Makes for bizarre enj-
oyment thereof.

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Now that's what I call an enj- / ambment! –  RegDwigнt Oct 8 '10 at 14:18

In theory (and practice) it should be possible to approx-rhyme MANY words ending with -enge, -ench or -etch, let alone middle-rhymes with those elements (a la Lehrer). Perhaps it is my own, um, hackneyed trade that suggests lug-wrench. Not sure what sort of poetry one could write with that rhyme, but perhaps a short epic of a taxi-driver and his weaponry...?

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protected by RegDwigнt Mar 30 '12 at 21:59

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