Ha Ha, Charade You Are!

Well, I’m a badass Cowboy livin’ in the Cowboy days.
Wiggy, wiggy, scratch, yo, yo, bang, bang.
Me and Artemus Clyde frog go save Salma Hayek from the big metal spider.
A wiggy wig wig wiggy wiggy wig
Fresh cowboy from the west side
Wiggy wiggy scratch yo yo bang bang
Me and Artemus Clyde frog go save Salma frog polly prissy pants
Go down to, well… rumpletumpskin

Yes, this is the second post I’ve got from a single song. One thing that really struck me when listening to “Pigs (Three of Them)” was the phrase in the title. I’d heard it before, you see, and I knew straight away from where.

It was a catchphrase of the South Park character Eric Cartman, first appearing, I believe, in the classic episode “Cat Orgy,” and later showing up in some other episodes. I’d had no idea when I first saw “Cat Orgy” in 1999 that the phrase was from a Pink Floyd song. As Cartman was dressed up and role playing as Will Smith’s character from the 1999 Hollywood flop Wild Wild West, I’d assumed it was from that film.

How wrong I was. Still, I wanted to make sure that it first appeared in the Pink Floyd song, and that the band weren’t taking it from somewhere else. It’s such an odd expression, unusually structured, and without an obvious meaning (without context), that I thought maybe it had a richer history.

But no, it was created for the song. I still kept thinking about it though, because I was curious about the fact that most questions about it online were about its structure. Why is it charade you are, and not you’re a charade?

The simplest, and correct answer, is that it’s poetic language, and the unusual structure is for artistic effect. I think most native speakers would recognise that. Which is all well and good, but what exactly is poetic language?

There’s rhyme obviously, and relatedly, rhythm and meter. Of course they’re necessary to give poetry its musicality. Then there are other aspects of poetic language like metaphor, similes, assonance, alliteration etc.

So what, exactly, is poetic about charade you are?

I think it’s certainly got a more interesting rhythm than you’re a charade. The latter only rises at the end, but charade you are has alternating stressed and unstressed syllables, like in Shakespeare’s preferred iambic pentameter.

But above all else, it’s just… different. It’s interesting and notable purely because of its novelty. You’re a charade is grammatically and syntactically correct, but that also makes it boring. Shifting the words around then, makes them inherently more interesting. Though that’s still as long as we’re making sure the syntax is still somewhat logical. It wouldn’t really work if we didn’t put you before are: are charade you, for example, sounds odd. And we also have to consider that charade you are has that pleasing meter with its alternating stressed syllables.

Maybe that’s the key to it: there’s a simple, interest-catching novelty to rearranging the words, but like Yoda, it still has to make some sense by not completely throwing the syntax out the window, and it still has to sound nice by having a good rhythm. Like a lot of great art, it’s a balance of innovation and the old tricks that always work.

Or as Will Smith once said:

Uh, wickey wild wild
Wicky wicky wild
Wickey wild, wicky wicky wild wild wild west,
Jim West, desperado, rough rider
No you don’t want nada.

Quite.

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