79: Iambic Pentameter

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Iambic Pentameter
Of course, you don't wanna limit yourself to the strict forms of the meter. That could get pretty difficult.
Title text: Of course, you don't wanna limit yourself to the strict forms of the meter. That could get pretty difficult.


In this part of the My Hobby series, the hobby is responding to casual questions using iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a form of poetic verse defined by the number of syllables per line. In this form, a line contains exactly five (penta means five in Greek) "iambs" per line. An iamb is a unit of two syllables with the stress falling on the second. The actual breakup of the words is unimportant; the definition is based solely on the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. One line of strict iambic pentameter will have ten syllables, with the stress falling on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and last.

In this comic, Cueball (i.e. Randall - the one with the hobby) is replying to his friend's questions. (The friend also looks like Cueball, but are here differentiated by who has the hobby.) Cueball's responses are each one line of iambic pentameter, just visually broken into two lines for space reasons. They read (adding the emphasis):

"Well, I can meet the plane at ten of six" and
"I'll meet him at the stairs before the gate"

with a sort of bouncing rhythm.

Shakespeare was one of the most famed users of iambic pentameter in his plays. This is the "strict form" of iambic pentameter. In practice, poets often strayed from the strict count of iambs as the image text suggests. Wikipedia offers two Shakespearian examples being "Now is the winter of our discontent," in which the first iamb is reversed ("Now" is stressed rather than "is"), and "To be or not to be, that is the question," which adds an extra unstressed syllable at the end. As the comic suggests in the title text, without such exceptions, it can be very difficult to stick to strict iambic pentameter for every sentence.


[Two identical Cueballs are having a conversation. The latter is identified as Cueball, since he represents Randall who has the Hobby.]
Friend: What time can you pick Michael up?
Cueball: Well, I can meet the plane at ten of six.
Friend: Do you know where to find him?
Cueball: I'll meet him at the stairs before the gate.
[Below the two Cueballs are the following text:]
My hobby: answering casual questions in iambic pentameter.


Iambs and other types of poetry "feet" are the subject of 1383: Magic Words.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


It's really not so hard to write such prose,
To stick to Shakespeare's scheme for fellow bards,
Of course the preparation always slows,
So spontaneity aint on the cards.
The better art of live concoction sits,
Beyond the skill of I your editor,
And this is why the comic title bits,
Are true and accurate without a flaw.
Or so I humour Randall by these lines,
Restricted by the form I've set upon,
Fearing that soon I'll commit rhyming crimes,
That you the readers see arrive, 'ere long.
And thus a sonnet author finds to be,
Whether for fun or for a Dark Lady. 14:08, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

I am stunned. Flabbergasted, of a lack of words. You, good sir, are a hero. A true poet, a master of words. I applaud you, and thank you for your time here. Netherin5 (talk) 15:04, 25 February 2019 (UTC)
Please create an account, explainxkcd needs wants you here. Knit cap (talk) 09:54, 9 December 2020 (UTC)

Wait, normal people don't communicate exclusively in iambic pentameter? Shakespeare lied to me! 04:04, 4 June 2014 (UTC)

There is a community portal discussion of what to call Cueball and what to do in case with more than one Cueball. I have added this comic to the new Category:Multiple Cueballs. Since Randall is the one with the hobby and also the one that Cueball represents I have kept Cueball in this explanation and transcript. But made a note of it. --Kynde (talk) 13:58, 15 March 2015 (UTC)

If you unstress both "of" and "course," the title text also kind of works with iambic meter. Aronurr (talk) 23:25, 21 January 2020 (UTC)

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb. 19:16, 3 June 2023

I rarely speak non-iambic, that's for sure.
I surely won't attempt to find a cure.
It hardly is a problem, do you mind?
I just can't help that I'm the rhyming kind!

If people all around the world agreed,
and rhymed instead of waging wars unjust,
the world would be a better place indeed,
thus, if you ask me, poetry 's a must!

That said, if one of you explainers know,
enlighten me on whether there's a rule,
which parts of quads of penta-iambic lines,
should rhyme together, like I just did show?

Flexximilian (talk) 23:44, 01 September 2023 (UTC)

Refer to places such as Rhyme scheme's link?
In there you will perhaps come find a clue.
To start: I, for your first of verses, think,
Perhaps a Balliol or Clerihew.
Though as your stanzas go from here to there,
The scheme does change in ways I need not say.
The second verse is of a type not rare,
In fact I do prefer myself that way.
It's at the last where head and foot alone,
Both rhyme; the lines betwixt are free from that.
In isolation I don't see it shown,
Of which the listed group or style it's at! 09:09, 2 September 2023 (UTC)
Retrieved from "https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php?title=79:_Iambic_Pentameter&oldid=321390"