Monday, 7 July 2014

What's a Couplet?

A little girl writing on a pad
Writing couplets is childishly simply ... or is it? ... Yes, it is. Apparently.
(photo by Alec Couros)


Noun. Late 16th century.
[Old & modern French, diminutive of couple noun.]

1 A pair of successive lines of verse, especially when rhyming together and of the same length. L16

2 generally. A pair, a couple. E17

3 ARCHITECTURE. A window of two lights. M19

4 MUSIC. A duplet. L19

coupleteer noun a writer of couplets; a versifier. E19

An occasional slam poet in my teens, I once came third in a competition held at the Oxford Playhouse. The two poets that beat me had tied scores, however, so the judges announced that they would have one minute to write a couplet, and the best would be declared the winner. In an instant, my disappointment turned to abject horror - I didn't know exactly what a couplet was. I mean, I kind of knew, but what if there was more to it? Does it have to rhyme? Mustn't it? Does it have a particular metre? Is it always supposed to be funny? I had a horror vision of me, having progressed to the final, still sitting there when the bell rang; frozen, mortified, begrutten with humiliation that I, yes I, had insolently entered a poetry slam without even knowing the true meaning of couplet. Oh for shame!

As I was reliving this imagined horror over and over, one of the finalists put up his hand and asked in a loud, ridiculously posh voice: "Excuse me, but what's a couplet?" A perplexed pause filled the room, before it burst into uproarious laughter, a laughter that said: "Oh! As if an Oxford poet wouldn't know what a couplet is! How atrociously absurd! Ho ho ho!" As if, indeed. And yes, that poet went on to write a brilliantly witty couplet and win the competition. And I was left sitting there thanking my sweaty brow that I hadn't been a finalist.

Well, now, posh Oxford poets, I do know what a couplet is, OK? And I did then too - I just wasn't 100% on all the details and I got a bit flustered, right? So, quite simply, a couplet is two lines of roughly equal length in a poem. Sometimes they rhyme, sometimes they don't; sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's not. Generally, though, a couplet expresses a complete thought, even if it's part of a longer piece. So:

As a hobby and blog I'm reading the great OED
But it's a bloody long slog, as I'm only on C

See? Easy. Oh ... except ... oh no ... I rhymed blog and slog in the middle. And there's some assonance going on there. Does this mean it's not a couplet!? Aaargh! It's like I'm 17 in the Oxford Playhouse all over again! I need help. I can't go back there ... I just can't ... Aaaaaragh!

Do please have a go at writing a couplet in the box below.
(the best one posted within a week might just win a Lexi t-shirt)

Coupleteers - go!
(and by the best I probably mean funniest)


  1. People say that I'm so cool, my knowledge is so sexy,
    Others say 'don't be a fool, he learned it all on lexi...colatry'. ( Dammit. So close. This is hard )

    1. The Angry Nerd wrote a couplet; he wanted to win a tee
      But here's the truth: just one prize, and just one winner - me

    2. Ha! Who is this chap with such contempt? This Dave who tells such lies,
      How dare he thwart my first attempt and rob me of my prize!

    3. It's over, Angie; I've stolen the show
      This is Dave, of Fennimore, as if you didn't know

    4. Fennimore - a likely story. As if there's such a place.
      I feel your current quest for glory is heading for disgrace.

    5. Break it up ladies - cool it down a degree
      No foregone conclusions here
      I'll decide in my time who's dropping dope rhymes
      To be crowned Lexi's Grand Coupleteer

  2. I am, as an artist, so inspired and original
    That even my couplets
    Have three lines.

  3. I am both intimidated and inspired.
    A couplet will arrive soon.

    (This isn't it.)

  4. This brings back my theory that I've never had an original thought my all life.
    Because as soon as I read the question I thought "Excuse me, but what's a couplet?" (I added Sweet Heaven?????? but even that isn't original ;) ahahahah) so here I am after Eddie and THAT poet.

    Here goes the attempt to win a XXL Tee:

    I have no idea what a couplet is in any given day,
    Still worth trying as the bravest are born in May.


  5. Competitions are indeed stressful enterprises
    But I can't say no to sartorial prizes.

  6. Because I'm a Blonde people think I'm naive,
    But look at this and what i can achieve.

    Hows that for lyrical magic. Ha ha.

  7. Not everyone is able to 'cup of tea' themselves through dictionaries
    But thanks to your blog, we feel like we have. - Your beneficiaries

    - Chlobo

  8. Words are just words, until they're read
    Like thoughts, they're thoughts until they're said

  9. Oh man I just saw the bit about winning a tee shirt ....n having to be mine seems dull....:(

    1. So you were entering the competition without reading the post! Shame on you, Naomi Walsh! : o )

    2. Actually, that's pretty much of a couplet ... ahem ...

      So you were entering the comp without read the post
      Shame on you, Naomi Walsh!


    3. What a Muppet, not knowing a couplet
      In Oxford too; that's a day you'll rue.

    4. Looks like I've done a coupled pair of couplets.

      Two Tee shirts?

    5. It gets better. What's a pair? A couple of course. So I have achieved the impossible; a coupled couple of couplets. That will baffle the Oxford poets!

      After a couple of shots of Tullamore Dew
      To clear the mind for thoughts anew.

  10. Ok so....
    Germany is winning, winning by a lot
    I'm more like Brazil, and winning I'm not.

  11. I'll take the time, compose a rhyme, with only two lines in it.
    For all that work, a lexi shirt! I wonder if I'll win it?

  12. Wow ...

    What a great response! I never knew Lexi had such lyrical readers. And such different strategies! We've had complimentary, self-deprecating, topical, offensive (and defensive) couplets, as well as couplets of intent and "I'm too cool to write a traditional couplet" couplets. There's still plenty of time on this, so keep the entries coming in - I can see it's going to be hard to choose a winner ...

  13. Seven-one, the score last night, Brazil's dreams all in tatters.
    But will I win the Lexi shirt is really all that matters.

  14. Hello Ed, it's The T One Thousand Here,
    I'm in Galway next week, fancy a beer?

    Sorry for not being in touch, the lack of communication,
    Been in Belfast for a while, somewhat of a vacation.

    Tis been so long since I've seen ya, I've regrown my beard,
    But as regards time for seeing you, my diary has been cleared

    I hate competing for something, against all the rest,
    Maybe because of always winning, being the best

    Regardless of the T-shirt, I don't overly care,
    It's the taking part, the comments we share,

    My love for Lexicolatry will never ever ever grow Cold
    As it's engraved in my heart, in letters of Gold

  15. Right ... I've made a (belated) decision ...

    With such different approaches taken to coupleteering, this has been a really difficult choice. However, in the end, I've decided to go with the one(s) that made me laugh the most, and that has to be the rhyming badinage between Angry Nerd and Fennimore Dave. That *really* had me chuckling, guys, so I'm declaring you joint winners. Well done - contact me via email with your t-shirt sizes and where you want them sent, and I shall dispatch them post-haste.

    As for all the other coupleteers, thanks very much for your entries - it was really good fun reading them all. As the inimitable T1 Thousand observed: "Regardless of the t-shirt, I don't overly care; it's the taking part, the comments we share." Well said, sir.

    Congrats A.N & F.D!