An eye rhyme, also called a visual rhyme or a sight rhyme, is a rhyme in which two words are spelled similarly but pronounced differently. An example is the name of English actor Sean Bean, whose name based on its visual aspect looks like it should be pronounced "Seen Been", but when spoken, there is no rhyming quality.
Many older English poems, particularly those written in Middle English, contain rhymes that were originally true or full rhymes, but as read by modern readers, they are now eye rhymes because of shifts in pronunciation, especially the Great Vowel Shift. These are called historic rhymes. Historic rhymes are used by linguists to reconstruct pronunciations of old languages, and are used particularly extensively in the reconstruction of Old Chinese, whose writing system does not allude directly to pronunciation.
One example of a historic rhyme (i.e. one which was a true rhyme which is now an eye rhyme), is the following:
The great man down, you mark his favourite flies;
The poor advanced makes friends of enemies.
When Hamlet was written around 1600, "flies" and "enemies" rhymed in local dialects, but as a result of the shifts in pronunciation since then, the original rhyme has been lost.
- "Rhyme". Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (6th Edition (2011): 1. MAS Ultra – School Edition ed.). 2012. p. 23.
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