No Rhyme or Reason

It makes things a lot easier when two people speak the same language or get on the same page, but sometimes things don’t work out the way you want and shit happens for no rhyme or reason.  Some things are just not easily explained, you just can’t figure it out no matter how hard you try and no particular logic, sense, method, or meaning of a given situation, action, person, thing, group, etc. is available.  This idiom is used to articulate a situation that’s inexpressible and to emphasize that there is no reason or explanation for something that happened as the event contains an absence of common sense or reasonableness, or any obvious explanation for it.  The etymologists say that this phrase originated in French about 1475 and began to be used in English about a century later.  John Russell probably used this first in ‘The Boke of Nurture’, where he said, As for ryme or reson, ye forewryter was not to blame.”  Sir Thomas More is credited with saying this about a mediocre book that a friend had put into verse, “Now it is somewhat, for now it is rhyme; whereas before it was neither rhyme nor reason.”

This phrase is also contained in Shakespeare’s play ‘The Comedy of Errors’, when Dromio tries to take the ease off his master’s scolding and says, “Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season, When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?”  It appears again in ‘As You Like It’, as Orlando professes his love for Rosalind.  Rosalind says, “But are you so much in love as your rhymes speak?”  Orlando responds, “Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.”

Rhyme refers to a set structure, poetic meter, a correspondence between words and reason is clarity, a logical cause, an explanation for an event.  Thus a person who has neither rhyme nor reason will have no common sense.  A thing which has neither rhyme nor reason makes no sense, from either a poetic or logical standpoint.  It is difficult if not impossible to express something that transcends mere words.

There seems to be very little reason behind most nursery rhymes and one that always perplexed me was Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub, because it just did not make a lot of sense.  This rhyme which evolved to be about three dudes bathing in a tub has many versions, but the one I prefer goes like this, “Rub-a-dub-dub Three men in a tub, And all of them going to the fair? The butcher, the baker, The candlestick maker, They all jumped out of a rotten potato! It was enough to make a man stare.”  This rhyme has been bastardized over the years and the original version describes three girls in the tub, “Hey! rub-a-dub, ho! rub-a-dub, three maids in a tub / And who do you think were there? / The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker / And all of them gone to the fair.”  This older version refers to a tawdry Victorian-era peep show which was a popular adult attraction at travelling fairs, where men could view a sideshow that featured naked girls in a tub together.  The shenanigans going on behind a facade of respectable crafts-men who all jumped up on stage and climbed into the tub with the girls was scandalous because of the presence of three respectable townsfolk.  It is hard to blame them for getting horney after watching three young, beautiful naked women sitting right in front of them in a bath-tub.  The rhyme became sanitized in the Victorian era and the maids became men because the idea of women being naked in a tub was too offensive for the progressively prudish standards of the day.

This idiom actually has its own unofficial holiday as September 1 is celebrated as No Rhyme or Reason Day.  You are supposed to celebrate this holiday by tapping into your creative side which might include writing some free verse poetry without any rhyme.  You could also write something that contains words that do not rhyme with anything else, like orange, silver, purple, month, ninth, pint, wolf, opus, dangerous, marathon and discombobulate, or just do something nice for someone for no rhyme or reason.  I think that I should remove purple from this list because of the purple nurple.

Written for Linda G. Hill Life in progress One-Liner Wednesday – June 13 prompt.

15 thoughts on “No Rhyme or Reason

  1. I knew a lot of Victorian era nursery rhymes had dubious and sometimes dark meanings, but this tale of the origins of “three men in a tub” is fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I have a list of ideas that I plan on using for future One-Liner Wednesday posts which includes wrap his head around, all of the bells and whistles, caught red-handed, gone belly up, drew a line in the sand, as the crow flies, sour grapes, eleventh hour, down pat, follow suit, deck stacked against you, Six of this a half dozen of the other, If all ifs and buts were made from candy and nuts, Don’t count your chickens, Cold as hell, Where there is one there is another, Measure twice cut once, Sometimes you have to get in bed with the enemy, When you want to kill a snake you cut off its head and It takes one to know one,

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      1. hmmm. sometimes i wonder if life would be easier if i was a little more organized and started planning things ahead. i know i could write a few posts with the phrases above. Good luck, i can’t wait to see what you’ll write for some of them.

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  2. I always liked idioms, and learning how they got started is always interesting. … I’ll have to remember September 1 – No Rhyme or Reason Day! That little video was cute, too. 🙂

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