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What Is a Broken Rhyme?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A broken rhyme is the use of a word that is split up in some way between two lines, so that the portion that falls at the end of a line is used in a rhyme. For example, a poet may wish to end one line with the word "star" and have the next line end with the word "karma." By splitting the word "karma" between two lines, according to the two syllables within it, it can be used to create a broken rhyme. This can occur by writing out a passage like "Above me the glowing evil star/ reminded me of my unlucky kar-/ ma."

Also called a split rhyme, the purpose of a broken rhyme is to allow a poet or other writer to use one part of a word for rhyme scheme without using all of it. A word is typically split between syllables, since the complete sound is often needed. Broken rhyme is usually found in poetry since prose does not tend to include a rhyme scheme. The concept can be used in literature outside of poetry, however, in order to end one line of a work with a word that might suggest one thing, until the next line is read.

In poetry, broken rhyme is often used to enable a poet to use a wide range of words within an established scheme or format. Normally, if a poet wishes to rhyme final words between two or more lines, he or she is restricted to those words that fit that scheme. This can make choosing a word with appropriate meaning, while still falling into the necessary rhyme, difficult. By using broken rhyme, however, a poet can choose from many more words that might allow for the scheme to be maintained with greater opportunity for meaning.

Broken rhyme is often used for comedic effect, since it allows a poet to write part of a word on one line, while completing it on the next. This is typically used in poetry or songs that are going to be performed aloud. The sound created by the first part of a word might resemble the entirety of another one, misleading the audience.

This can be found in an American schoolyard rhyme often referred to as "Miss Suzie," in which lines suggest profanity, while changing the word into something innocent. For example, there are several versions of the song, but often lyrics include something like "Helen had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell,/ Helen took some dynamite and blew the bell to hell-/ -o operator, give me number nine,/ If it doesn't answer, give me back my dime." The break at the end of line two suggests a vulgar exclamation, which is quickly rolled into the word "hello" when performed aloud.

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