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While researching for the rhyme scheme used by hip-hop artists (Hail Eminem!), I found this wikipedia article:

A feminine rhyme is a rhyme that matches two or more syllables, usually at the end of respective lines, in which the final syllable or syllables are unstressed. It is also commonly known as double rhyme.

An example of a rhyme that qualifies as feminine is fashion with passion.

Now, as Wikipedia articles go, this isn't one of the better ones. There is no clue as to why it's named that way.

Consulting Etymonline and Oxford didn't help.

Does anyone know why is the double rhyme also called the female/feminine rhyme? And please shed some light on the origin of masculine rhyme as well.

PS - It seems hip-hop artists call these 'multies'. Short for multisyllabic rhymes.


EDIT: My reasearch has taught me what these terms mean. So please answer regarding the origin only. And it would be good if there is some attribution, because the terms invite speculation.

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    Translation from another language? Feminine words in French often have unaccented e's on the end, and thus result in feminine rhymes. (These e's are silent in French today, but are still pronounced when reading poetry.) – Peter Shor Jun 9 '15 at 18:05
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    Huh, good question. It always just sort of made intuitive sense to me—the double rhyme kind of feels more elegant and well-ordered and feminine somehow, while the single rhyme feels more brute-forced and pushy—but that's probably just my own internal post-rationalising based on the names. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 9 '15 at 18:12
  • Maybe you came across this. Still, have a look at this Feminine-Masculine – 4-K Jun 9 '15 at 18:17
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    And evidence for my theory: From Wikipédia: Une rime est prononcée féminine lorsque le dernier phonème est un e caduc (nommé autrefois « e féminin »). translated: "A rhyme is called féminine when the last phoneme is a mute e (formerly called an "e féminin"). So in French, a rhyme was feminine if the line ended with a "feminine e". – Peter Shor Jun 9 '15 at 18:30
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    English rhyme is based on matching the rime of the last stressed syllable. It is masculine rhyme when there are no further syllables, feminine rhyme otherwise. Unstressed syllables in feminine rhyme must match identically rather than merely sharing rimes as is required in the stressed syllable. Modern English rhyme ultimately came to us from Italian; think of Dante’s terza rima. It is tail-rhyme based on stressed syllabic rime rather than the head-rhyme based on the alliteration of initial consonants or consonant clusters of Old English and sometimes of Middle English. – tchrist Jun 12 '15 at 16:19
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The names come from French, where (from French Wikipédia)

A rhyme is called feminine when the last phoneme is a mute e (formerly called an "e féminin").

That is, a rhyme was called feminine if the words ended with a mute e. Back when the rules for French poetry were formulated, these e's were pronounced, but unstressed, and one name for them was feminine e's. Mute e's are still pronounced when reading poetry and when singing, although not in normal speech.

Why were they called feminine e's? It probably didn't have anything to do with mute e's being weaker or more girly-sounding in any sense; they were called feminine e's because, to turn male adjectives and some male nouns into female ones, you added a mute e. For example, in French, a big black cat is:

un gros chat noir (boy cat),
une grosse chatte noire (girl cat).

This rule in French applies only for adjectives and some nouns which have male/female versions (e.g., chanteur, chanteuse); there are quite a few masculine nouns that end in mute e's and feminine nouns that don't.

You can see that the name "feminine rhyme" originated in French by looking at the reference (from London, 1764) T Romano gives in his answer, where a feminine rhyme is defined as one ending in an e-mute. In English, words (e.g., state and gait) rhyme whether or not they end in a silent e.

  • Why not add your remark that in French poetry [or song] this -e is unstressed rather than mute? This is not an academic distinction - I recently had to sing Lauridsen's Chansons des Roses, which ignores this; it feels awkward to me and led to disagreements with other choir members. – reinierpost Jun 9 '15 at 21:09
  • @reinierpost: Done. Listening to Chansons des Roses, it seems that Lauridsen pronounces some of the mute e's and not others, which I think might be more disconcerting than if he used either alternative consistently. – Peter Shor Jun 9 '15 at 21:51
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    could anyone give ONE EXAMPLE of a feminine rhyme in English?? – Fattie Jun 10 '15 at 8:22
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    @Joe: sample and trample. Examples are quite easily Googleable. – Peter Shor Jun 10 '15 at 8:30
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    @PeterShor: Not sure that's the best example - those words don't actually rhyme in, for example, standard British English. Perhaps pleasure and treasure? (Must resist temptation to suggest pleasure*/*leisure, which rhymes in BrE but not always in AmE...) – psmears Jun 10 '15 at 17:20
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According to volume 4 of A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences: Comprehending All the Branches of Useful Knowledge, with Accurate Descriptions as Well of the Various Machines, Instruments, Tools, Figures, and Schemes Necessary for Illustrating Them, as of the Classes, Kinds, Preparations, and Uses of Natural Productions, Whether Animals, Vegetables, Minerals, Fossils, Or Fluids; Together with the Kingdoms, Provinces, Cities, Towns, and Other Remarkable Places Throughout the World (London, 1764),

a feminine rhyme is that where the last syllable of the rhyme ends with an e-mute

The passage goes on to say:

There is no rule in poetry...whose observance costs so much trouble, and is productive of less beauties in verse, than that of rhyming...

  • Great find! Of course, this is only true in French. But rhymes with a "mute e" on the end of a line in French poetry produces a similar effect to two-syllable rhymes, with the second syllable unstressed, in English, German and Russian poetry. – Peter Shor Jun 9 '15 at 18:52
  • In French for sure, but not only in French. (books.google.com/…) – TRomano Jun 9 '15 at 19:47
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    Otherwise known as "A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences: Being the First Book Whose Subtitle was a Chapter in its Own Right." – David Richerby Jun 10 '15 at 10:10
  • this "a feminine rhyme is that where the last syllable of the rhyme ends with an e-mute" would seem to have nothing to do with a "double rhyme" - I'm confused by it! – Fattie Jun 13 '15 at 2:02
  • @Joe Blow: There's a paragraph devoted to the confusing nomenclature in the entry from the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics; see the link in my comment directly above. – TRomano Jun 13 '15 at 10:58
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According To the following source it comes from the French language distinction of words according to gender and the 'weak' rhymes that unaccented syllables suggest.

  • According to one source in the English Department at Carson-Newman College, (http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms_R.html) the word "rhyme" itself originates "from Old French, rime meaning 'series,' in turn adopted from Latin 'rithmus' and Greek 'rhythmos'." Given some of the other gender assignments in Greek and Latin, might we ascribe gender features to the rhyming verses penned by the early Greeks and Romans?

  • No doubt, the definition of gender in rhyme could probably be argued until the cows come home, with a break taken only for milking before the debate starts again. As is true with virtually any sorting out of why words in any language might be classified as masculine versus feminine, rhymes are no different. *One thing seems clear: at least in English, gender in rhyme seems to have little or nothing to do with the gender rules found in some romance languages.

  • That is, whether a line of verse in English ends in an "a" or "o" or other gender laden vowel or consonant, doesn't really matter as much as it does in the Spanish language. And speaking of word endings, despite its compromise value in the Italian language, the use of a neutral vowel (such as the letter "i") at the end of the plural form of both masculine and feminine words is not a gender-driven issue in English rhyme. But you have to admire the logical recognition of not being able to sort out gender in groups.

  • In the French language, the definition suggests line ending words which end in "e" are feminine and those that don't are masculine. Some sources also refer to "e" endings and unaccented ending syllables as being weak.

(billkirkwrites.blogspot)

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    In French, adjectives that end in "e" are feminine, and adjectives that don't are masculine. For nouns, this only works with nouns that come in gendered pairs (e.g., chanteur and chanteuse or chien and chienne). – Peter Shor Jun 9 '15 at 20:48

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