For “Fiddle-de-de”

By John Hollander 1929–2013 John Hollander

“What’s the French for fiddle-de-dee?” “Fiddle-de-dee’s not English,” Alice replied gravely. “Whoever said it was,” said the Red queen ...

What’s the French for “fiddle-de-dee”?   
But “fiddle-de-dee’s not English” (we
Learn from Alice, and must agree).
The “Fiddle” we know, but what’s from “Dee”?   
Le chat assis in an English tree?

—Well, what’s the French for “fiddle-de-dench”?   
(That is to say, for “monkey wrench”)   
—Once in the works, it produced a stench

What’s the Greek for “fiddle-de-dex”?   
(That is to say, for “Brekekekex”)
—The frog-prince turned out to be great at sex.

What’s the Erse for “fiddle-de-derse”?   
(That is to say, for “violent curse”?)   
—Bad cess to you for your English verse!

What’s the Malay for “fiddle-de-day”?   
(That is to say, for “That is to say ...”)   
—...[There are no true synonyms, anyway ...]

What’s the Pali for “fiddle-de-dally”?   
(That is to say, for “Silicon Valley”)   
—Maya deceives you: the Nasdaq won’t rally.

What’s the Norwegian for “fiddle-de-degian”?   
(That is to say, for “His name is Legion”)   
—This aquavit’s known in every region.

What’s the Punjabi for “fiddle-de-dabi”?   
(That is to say, for “crucifer lobby”)   
—They asked for dall but were sent kohl-rabi.

What’s the Dutch for “fiddle-de-Dutch”?   
(That is to say, for “overmuch”)   
—Pea-soup and burghers and tulips and such.

What’s the Farsi for “fiddle-de-darsi?”   
(That is to say for “devote yourself”—“darsi”   
In Italian—the Irish would spell it “D’Arcy”)

Well, what’s the Italian for “fiddle-de-dallion”?   
(That is to say, for “spotted stallion”)   
—It makes him more randy to munch on a scallion.

Having made so free with “fiddle-de-dee,”   
What’s to become now of “fiddle-de-dum”?   
—I think I know. But the word’s still mum.

John Hollander, “For ‘Fiddle-de-dee’” from Hotel Amerika. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Poetry 180 (2003)

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Poet John Hollander 1929–2013

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Humor & Satire

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 John  Hollander


John Hollander was one of contemporary poetry’s foremost poets, editors, and anthologists. Over the course of an astonishing career, Hollander influenced generations of poets and thinkers with his critical work, his anthologies and his poetry. In the words of J. D. McClatchy, Hollander was "a formidable presence in American literary life." Hollander’s eminence as a scholar and critic was in some ways greater than his reputation . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Humor & Satire

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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