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Giving us pause

Posted by R. Berg on January 04, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Scansion afterthought posted by TheFallen on January 04, 2003

: : : : : : : In Reply to: Re: Scanning posted by R. Berg on December 27, 2002

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : The full Scottish proverb:
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : If turnips were swords, i'd wear one by my side
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : If ifs and ands were pots and pans,
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : there'd be no need for tinkers' hands"

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : Is it just me? I can't make this scan:
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : If turnips were swords, i'd wear one by my side
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : Either there's another way to read it, or word it ... or the Scots can't scan.

: : : : : : : : : It does scan. There are twelve beats per line. The word "swords" lasts for just one beat not two.

: : : : : : : : The part that gives me trouble is "wear one by my side": its length and pattern of accents. It doesn't divide into DA-da-da like the rest. And the first line has only ten syllables. Are you counting more than one beat for some syllables? "If wi-shes were ho-or-ses, beg-gars would ri-ide"?

: : : : : : : Sorry, I wasn't too clear. The verse is some sort of amphibrachic tetrameter, I think, which is short-long-short four times per line. The uppercase syllables below are stressed:

: : : : : : : "If WISHes were HORSes, BEGgars would RIDE.
: : : : : : : If TURnips were SWORDS, I'd wear ONE by my SIDE.
: : : : : : : If IFS and ANDS were POTS and PANS,
: : : : : : : There'd BE no NEED for TINkers' HANDS."

: : : : : : : When you say the second line, do not pause at all. Ignore the comma. It scans. Really.

: : : : : : I ain't buyiin' it. I don't think there are 12 syllables in any of those lines. (Of course, I kept my shoes on, so counting to 12 is a challenge for me.)

: : : : : Bob, let's lose that counting method anyway. It's confusing. I never know whether to include in the total the finger I'm counting the other fingers with.

: : : : : Mr. or Ms. Fullstop, it didn't occur to me to stress ONE. I stressed WEAR, as in speech:
: : : : : If TURnips were SWORDS, I'd WEAR one BY my SIDE
: : : : : and got a line consisting of two and a fraction dactyls followed by three minus a fraction trochees. If that's an amphibrachic something, no wonder they went extinct and turned into petroleum deposits while our ancestors had the size and posture of rats.

: : : : Rats without internal cumbustion engines. And it served them right.

: : : What wonderful technical terms - and I thought medicine was complex!!

: : I was going to post on this one earlier, but couldn't dredge up all the necessary technical terms from my memory. The anonymous Dot is exactly right with his/her display of where the stresses fall, and nearly right with his/her terminology.

: : The first two lines are strictly speaking each three amphibrachs (ta-TUM-tum) followed by a single iamb (ta-TUM). The last two lines are much easier to spot, each clearly consisting of four simple iambs (ta-TUM).

: : There's potential difficulty in seeing this in both lines one and two. Line one has a mute beat in it as follows:-

: : "if WI-shes / were HOR-ses,/ * BEG-gars / would RIDE"

: : Reading it clearly requires a pause after the comma by the reader, and then it scans perfectly.

: : Contrarily, the second line requires no pause and indeed an elision across two words, thus:-

: : "if TUR-nips / were SWORDS-i'd / wear ONE by / my SIDE"

: : It's the "swordsid" that's presenting the problems.

: Of course, the problem's entirely solved if the first line has over the years lost a word, thus

: "if WI-shes / were HOR-ses, / (then) BEG-gars / would RIDE"

: It's not an essential, but it may help clarify the metric beat and where to pause if you silently add it.

I agree about the pause after "horses." I think there must be a similar pause after "ride." With those two pauses, the first two lines together fit a 3/4 rhythm--except that accenting "one" still seems unnatural to me.