Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error

Updated on September 28, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Dr. Samuel Johnson



In Laurence Perrine’s time-tested textbook, Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, which has introduced several generations of students to poetry, Professor Perrine employed the correct spelling of the term which signals that two words sound nearly the same.

Perrine’s textbook is in its fourteenth edition. I can attest that with the 9th edition and back through to the first, Perrine used the term "rime"—not rhyme. After Perrine’s death, Professor Thomas Arp took up the task of updating the text. I assume that Arp continued to use the correct term; although I have not seen copies of the 10th through 14th editions.

(If anyone has information either confirming that continued use or if Arp fell under the pervading error usage, I would very much appreciate a report.)

Origin of the Term "Rhyme"

From the Old English, "hrim," the term had become "rime" in Middle English, the time of Geoffrey Chaucer. The term remained "rime" through Shakepeare’s time, on through the Victorian era, until the 19th century. English printers then started spelling the perfectly fine term, "rime," as the erroneous,"rhyme."

Those misguided printers were led astray by Dr. Samuel Johnson, who mistakenly thought the term was a Greek derivative of "rhythmos," and therefore contended that the proper spelling should be based on that derivation.


In the Shakespeare sonnets, originally, the spelling was always "rime," as the first published edition in 1609 attests. Of course, the sonnets were composed two centuries before the incorrect spelling was introduced in the lexicon.

Unfortunately, nowadays, you will find that many editors have altered the spelling of Shakespeare to comply with the absurd misspelling. Shakespeare! The genius, the bard for all time—modern editors think they are equipped to correct the spelling of the most admired poet of the Western world.

Coleridge’s "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

If one google’s "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," one is accosted with this bit of into:

Including results for rime of the ancient mariner

Search only for rhyme of the ancient mariner

And when one clicks the "rhyme" title, one finds no authentic text of that poem. All of the authoritative texts, including those featured at Poetry Foundation, bartley.com, and poets.org, present Coleridge’s original, correct spelling of "rime."

How does Coleridge go unscathed, but Shakespeare gets corrected? Coleridge’s title was not indicating a type of ice; it was referring metonymically to the poem itself whose 626 lines are displayed in an ABAB rime scheme.

The Editorial Choice

Those editors who refuse to return to the original, correct spelling of "rime" are victims of the lemmings mentality. They do it because so many other editors have done so. They do it so they can continue to publish among those others who have published. Truth and honesty get lost in the push to publish at all costs. It reminds one of the old adage: "Would you jump off a cliff because everybody else is doing it?" Well, yes, if you are a lemming!

Yes, of course, they would and they do. And the error continues to spread. Writers, even poets, are now content to employ the inaccurate term.

In my online, written interview with poet/editor, Vince Gotera, the poet used the term four times all spelled, "rhyme." When I queried his usage, suggesting that that usage has derived from an error, he simply shrugged it off, implying that getting published and understood by the majority of readers is more important than historical accuracy of individual words.

Gotera’s attitude, of course, sums up the attitude of most editors regarding this issue. Mind you, Gotera is also a poet, not just an editor, but in this case the editor’s hat sat more firmly than the poet’s, even though I would venture a guess that his pride of stature as poet far exceeds in his mind and soul that of editor.

Why I Prefer Rime, Not Rhyme

As a poet, editor, and seeker of truth and accuracy, I always opt for the spelling of "rime" for two basic reasons: (1) I cannot in good conscience participate in the continuation of an error. (2) A basic rule of all written discourse calls for brevity in use of language: day one writing instruction will deliver the admonition, never use a big word, when a small one will work as well, and never employ two words when one will work.

Compare by sight the two terms: rime and rhyme. The former is crisp, clear, four letters without one superfluous mark. The latter has one more letter, a silent "h," and a "y" resting in place where the more convenient and identically pronounced "i" should reside.

"Rime" is simply the better choice than the bulky inaccurate "rhyme."

A Final Word

While many, if not most, non-literary readers believe that the term "rime" refers only to a type of ice, too many writers, printers, editors, and publishers insist on the incorrect usages of that perfectly good English word. Of course, some editors will consider the term interchangeable, but many actually demand that the awkward "rhyme" be used.

The unfortunate perpetuation of an error continues to liter the landscape of poetry with the ugly, inaccurate term "rhyme," but the clean, crisp "rime" should be taking its place properly in the literary landscape of poetry.

This absurd video really exists. More damage caused by the invention of a nonsense word.

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 Linda Sue Grimes


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