by 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.

SOURCE: Poetry 180 (2003).

Illustration by John Tenniel (1871).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Hollander (1929-2013) was the author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry, including Picture Window (2003), Figurehead: And Other Poems (1999), Tesserae (1993), Selected Poetry (1993), Harp Lake (1988), Powers of Thirteen (1983), Spectral Emanations (1978), Types of Shape (1969), and A Crackling of Thorns (1958). Hollander’s many honors included the Bollingen Prize, the Levinson Prize, and the MLA Shaughnessy Medal, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and former poet laureate of Connecticut, he taught at Connecticut College, Hunter College, the CUNY Graduate Center, and Yale, where he was the Sterling Professor emeritus of English.