The Barraclough Foofarough

The following poem by George Starbuck uses the sometimes confusing and apparently unpredictable variety of pronunciations of -ough words as the occasion for an amusing piece of verse:

The Barraclough Foofarough

We Barracloughs are tough .
We Barracloughs are thorough .
We've shaken every bough .
We've beaten every borough .
Directories we plough
Methodically through
Are each a very trough
Of Goughs and Houghs—a slough
Of Cloughs and Bloughs. What though
We come down with the cough ?
What though we squander dough
And time? It is enough
to know there is no -ough
That rhymes with Barraclough.

George Starbuck; copyright 1971 The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.

To Starbuck's catalogue we can add yet more words, like ought . To find out about the phonological conditions that led to the individual pronunciations, just click on the rhyme words, which will take you to the appropriate page.

Next navigate to similar pages for similar -gh- words like

high, right

straight, eight

taught, laugh

Finally, after reviewing the individual pages, answer the following questions:

  1. Today the words rough and cough do not rhyme, despite similar spellings and some similar sounds. Was there ever a time when they rhymed with one another?
  2. The game known in American English as checkers is known in British English as draughts, sometimes pronounced [drɑts]. Given this pronunciation, is it possible that this use of draughts is a variant of other uses of draft/draught, as in draught horse or draught beer? That is, is draughts the game a variant pronunciation of draft/draught or a different word? Explain.
  3. Slough, meaning a swampy depression or waterway, has two current pronunciations: [slaʊ], which is more British, and [slu], which is more American. The latter seems to be Starbuck's pronunciation, otherwise there would be no rhyme for "through." There are different Middle English spellings that suggest variant pronunciations for the vowel, either [u:] or [o:]. How might this early variation account for today's different dialectal pronunciations?
  4. The word enough shows an early spelling variant enow. Is this merely an orthographic difference, or does it reflect a different pronunciation? Explain.

The Dictionary of British Surnames, ed. P.H. Reaney, lists the following variant spellings of "Barraclough" through the centuries: Barrowclough, Barrowcliff, Berrecloth, Barraclue; the entry concludes "The pronunciation is Barracluff, in London Barraclow or Barraclue."