23 Notoriously Unrhymable Words (That Actually Have Rhymes)

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You’ll no doubt have heard the old fact that nothing rhymes with orange. But in fact, the English surname Gorringe—as in Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, captain of the USS Gettysburg—rhymes with orange. And so does Blorenge, the name of a hill in south Wales. But even if proper nouns like surnames and place names are excluded, that still leaves sporange, an obscure name for the sporangium, which is the organ of a plant that produces its spores. So although it might all depend on your accent, on how obscure a word you’re willing to accept, and on precisely where the stress falls in the word (because sporange can either rhyme with orange or be pronounced “spuh-ranj”), it seems there actually is a rhyme for orange.

In fact, despite often finding their way onto lists of notoriously unrhymable words, all of the words listed here do have rhymes in English—just so long as bizarre dialect words and obscure scientific jargon are allowed...

1. ACRID rhymes with epacrid (in some pronunciations), a name for any plant of the genus Epacris, most of which are found in Australia.

2. ANGST partially rhymes with both phalanxed, meaning “arranged in rows,” and thanksed, an old word meaning “given thanks to.”

3. BEIGE is pronounced without an affricate—an intrusive sound, like the unavoidable “d” that appears at the start of jump—so that it sounds more like the first syllable of Asia than it does similar words like age, gauge, stage, and rage. But that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of a rhyme; there’s also greige, the name for the dull color of undyed fabric.

4. BULB rhymes with culb, an obscure 17th century word for a retort or a barbed reply.

5. CHAOS rhymes with naos, a name for the innermost part of a Greek temple, and speos, an Egyptian tomb built into a cave.

6. CIRCLE rhymes with hurkle, an old dialect word meaning “to pull your arms and legs in towards your body,” as well as both heterocercal and homocercal, two zoological terms describing the tails of fish that are either symmetrical or asymmetrical, respectively. 

7. CIRCUS has a homophone, cercus, which is the name of a bodily appendage found on certain insects, and so rhymes with cysticercus, another name for a tapeworm larva. If that’s too obscure, why not try rhyming it with murcous—a 17th century word meaning “lacking a thumb.”

8. CONCIERGE is a direct borrowing from French, so the number of English words it can rhyme with is already limited. But there is demi-vierge, another French loanword used as an old-fashioned name for a unchaste young woman—or, as Merriam-Webster explains, “a girl … who engages in lewd or suggestive speech and usually promiscuous petting, but retains her virginity.” It literally means “half-virgin.”

9. DUNCE rhymes with punce, a dialect word for flattened, pounded meat, or for a sudden hard kick.

10. FALSE rhymes with valse, which is an alternative name for a waltz, according to the OED.

11. FILM rhymes with pilm, an old southern English word for dust or fine powder.

12. FILTH rhymes with both spilth, which is the quantity lost when a drink is spilled, and tilth, meaning hard work or labor.

13. GOUGE rhymes with scrouge, which means “to crowd or crush together.” In 19th century college slang, a scrouge was also a long, dull or arduous lesson or piece of work.

14. GULF rhymes with both sulf, which is another name for toadflax, and culf, an old southwest English word for the loose feathers that come out of pillows and cushions.

15. MUSIC rhymes with both aguesic and dysguesic, both of which are medical words describing a total lack of or minor malfunction in a person’s sense of taste, respectively.

16. PURPLE rhymes with hirple, meaning “to limp” or “walk awkwardly,” and curple, an old Scots word for the hindquarters of a horse.

17. REPLENISH rhymes with both displenish, which means “to remove furniture,” and Rhenish, meaning “relating to the river Rhine.”

18. RHYTHM rhymes with the English place name Lytham as well as smitham, an old word for fine malt dust or powdered lead ore.

19. SILVER, after purple and orange, is the third of three English colors supposedly without rhymes. But there is chilver, an old dialect word for a ewe lamb.

20. WASP rhymes with both cosp, which is the crossbar at the top of the handle of a spade, and knosp, an architectural ornament resembling the bud of a tree.

21. WIDTH rhymes with sidth, an English dialect word variously used for the length, depth, or breadth of something—or literally the length of one side. 

22. WINDOW rhymes with tamarindo, a Spanish-American drink made of boiled and sweetened tamarind fruit.

23. WOMEN rhymes with both timon, an old word for the rudder of a ship, and dimmen, meaning “to grow dim” or “to set like the sun.” Woman, however, has no rhyme at all. (Apparently.) 

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March 12, 2015 - 2:00pm
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