This Is Our House, This Is Our Rules

We must admit, and with no little shame, that we have been obsessed with Miley Cyrus’s latest single “We Can’t Stop” since it came out. (To those who have never heard of this song, we advise that you listen to it first before plowing ahead with this article.)

Part of the appeal of the song is its extremely catchy tune. It gets stuck in your head for hours, and it seems that the only way to get rid of it is to listen to it some more. It’s also quite fascinating to see Hannah Montana transform herself from the American Midwest’s daydreaming sweetheart to a raunchy young… lady… with smoke coming out of her crotch. (Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!) Some anal-retentive grammar nazis, on the other hand, just can’t stop listening to the song for another reason: To make sure she said what they thought she said.

This is our house
This is our rules

We Can't Stop 1

Language has always been malleable on the parchment of a true poet, much like a lump of soft clay in the hands of a skilled potter, and they have been known to ignore some basic rules of grammar just to preserve their work’s rhythm and measure. It is also not uncommon for poets to divert from standard syntax or disregard common diction or pronunciation in order to maintain the tone of their work.

Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
Can’t you see it’s we who ’bout that life

We Can't Stop 2

TS_ELIOTClassical poets, in particular, have been known to use non-existent contractions such as “ne’er” for “never” and “’tween” for “between”, or to even omit words altogether, just to be able to comply with their desired syllable count. In Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, for example, the line “Friends, Brethren, Countrymen, lend me your ears” would technically require the use of the conjunction “and” before “Countrymen”, but it has been omitted in order to preserve the rhythm of the iambic pentameter. Another example is a verse from T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”:


Full fathom five your Bleistein lies
Under the flatfish and the squids.
Graves’ Disease in a dead Jew’s eyes!
Where the crabs have eat the lids

In this verse, Eliot chose to incorrectly use the present tense of the word “eat”, instead of the grammatically correct tense “eaten”, in order to preserve the eight-syllable count per line.

Carroll-JabberwockyHowever, some poets take poetic license a bit too far, as in the case of Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky”, where he used nonsense words like:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves;
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe

This of course conveys nothing because the words used have no meaning, but the reader can derive the context from the way the lines are worded and is free to replace the nonsense words with actual ones.

We run things, things don’t run we

As a common rule, even the strict rules of polite society often forgive the grammatical transgressions of the poet as long as the result is aesthetically pleasing and the alterations enhance the total effect of the poem. But for some reason, possibly out of sheer elitism, the same society does not forgive the same of modern artists, particularly singers. Some examples, among others, are Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” and T-Pain “Buy You a Drank”. The first example was incorrect because the past tense for “bend” is not “bended” but rather “bent”. The second example needs no explanation, but the word “drank” was obviously used in place of “drink” because it is easier to find rhyming words for that (such as “bank”, which was extensively used throughout the song).

We don’t take nothing from nobody

ShakespeareObviously, the songwriter/s exercised poetic license throughout “We Can’t Stop” but in their defense, they did have a disclaimer of sorts in the first verse, where Miley sings: It’s our party we can say what we want. Does this entitle them to poetic license, then?

We will leave that question hanging. The point of this article is not to judge the song’s validity as a work of art. Nor do we claim to have the right to decide whether Miley Cyrus has the same right to poetic license as William Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot. But as mentioned above, the common rule is that it doesn’t matter how many rules of grammar were broken, as long as the result is aesthetically pleasing. In that case, it’s up to you whether you want to forgive Miley’s grammatical trespasses or not.

Photo credit: MCLC Books; Burns LIbrary, Boston College; Wikimedia Commons; Wikimedia Commons via Flickr and Miley Cyrus VEVO via YouTube