Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Chris moves on


I was looking for an edition of Pilgrim’s Progress, which I’ve never read, except in excerpts. I discovered this 1869 edition by Mary Godolphin titled Pilgrim’s Progress in Words of One Syllable. I was fascinated. It sounded like a modernist literary gag, like writing a novel with no E’s. When I had a look, I found the monosyllabicity wasn’t quite as thoroughgoing as I’d hoped. For instance, we are spared the protagonists Chris and Prude, and the City of Destruction has not been renamed to Knock Down Town, or Ruin Burg. There would be a nice alliteration if the Slough of Despond had become the Swamp of Sad.

“Crazy-headed coxcombs” becomes “such fools”, which has a certain pithiness to it. On the other hand, Mme. Godolphin does apologise: “It may be objected that my system involves the use of words which, though short, are difficult to understand.” I am reminded of Alexander Pope’s great self-referential parody, in the Essay on Criticism,

While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,
And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line,
While they ring round the same unvary’d Chimes,
With sure Returns of still expected Rhymes.

Which, in turn, reminds me of Tom Lehrer’s “Folk Song Army“:

The tune don’t gotta be clever
And it don’t matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line.
It sound’s more ethnic if it ain’t good English,
And it don’t even gotta rhyme.
Excuse me, rine.

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