Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there, the cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

It's always bothered me that "bone" doesn't rhyme with "none", especially since the other verses in the poem seem to try harder to rhyme the 2nd and 4th lines.

The third verse is worse:

She went to the undertaker's
To buy him a coffin;
When she came back
The dog was laughing.

Is this a case of a shift in pronunciation? Or does it simply not rhyme? (Or, does it rhyme, but only in certain accents?)

  • 1
    Plus one for a fellow "This doesn't rhyme" person... If we could get contemporary song writers to realise that lady does not rhyme with crazy I would be a happier person ;) – mplungjan Jul 18 '11 at 16:02
  • You may be interested in english.stackexchange.com/q/8069/3306 (Examples of poems which no longer rhyme). – rajah9 Jul 18 '11 at 20:26
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    The "coffin and laffin" verse has bigger problems than the rhyme. "She went to the undertaker's" doesn't even scan. I think it would've been "joiner's" originally as joiners predated undertakers as a trade, particularly for the working classes. – BoldBen Jul 14 '17 at 10:32

I admire your will to contrive history to turn Old Mother Hubbard into a master work of literature. Unfortunately in this case, I don't think there's terribly much evidence for these words rhyming (or at least, not for a majority of speakers). If you look at dictionaries from the 19th century, the words "bone" and "none" are squarely transcribed with different vowels, as are "coffin" and "laughing". (There's a chance that, once upon a time, more speakers did pronounce the vowel of "laugh", and indeed other words such as "dance", similar to that of "coffin", but sadly not at the time Old Mother Hubbard was written.)

If you want to be euphemistically kind to Old Mother Hubbard, then you could call it a "visual rhyme". An alternative theory is that Old Mother Hubbard is actually not a master work of literature. Shock horror.

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  • 4
    Eee by gum. If yer from up north, then coffin rhymes with laughing. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 18 '11 at 15:13
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    @Matt, ey, but then bo-arn wun't ryhme wi nun – mgb Jul 18 '11 at 15:30
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    What? Mother Goose was not a literary genius? Next you'll tell me "horrid" doesn't rhyme with "forehead"??? – GEdgar Jul 18 '11 at 16:18
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    It's true that once upon a time, "bane" and "ne ane" probably rhymed. However, I think that's once upon a very long time compared to when OMH was written in this version. Whatever the exact history (it's true there are some 18th century rhymes with similar theme/form, for example, though different in their exact choice of words), the rhyme is in ostensibly contemporary English and I don't see any plausible reason for thinking that the rhyme is based on Old English, or why that version would have been available to the author in the 1800s but now mysteriously lost. – Neil Coffey Jul 18 '11 at 16:19
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    Actually, forehead does rhyme with horrid in some dialects; it was a shibboleth for U (as was the pronunciation /εt/ for the word ate). My grandmother, an English immigrant to Canada, pronounced it forrid; my father only pronounced it that way when telling old family stories (complete with accents). – bye Jul 19 '11 at 3:39

This is a kind of rhyming known as off rhyme:

off rhyme n. A partial or imperfect rhyme, often using assonance or consonance only, as in dry and died or grown and moon. Also called half rhyme, near rhyme, oblique rhyme, slant rhyme.

So the answer is no, those lines don't rhyme perfectly. But they sorta kinda do rhyme, if you're not too strict.

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  • 10
    Roses are red / Violets are blue / Most poems rhyme / But this one doesn't – mmyers Jul 18 '11 at 16:19
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    @mmyers: From Tom Lehrer's "Folk Song Army": The tune don't have to be clever / And it don't matter if you put a couple of extra syllables into a line / It sounds more ethnic if it ain't good English / And it don't even gotta rhyme ... excuse me: rhyne. youtube.com/watch?v=yygMhtNQJ9M – Robusto Jul 18 '11 at 17:47

coffin and laughing (laffin') rhyme in Lancashire dialect Same as forehead (forred) and horrid.

But I've never heard none and bone rhyme.

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