When you write a song in English, the right word can be a close, next-door neighbour to the ‘not-quite-right’ word.
Ragnar Kjartansson chose ‘once again’ instead of ‘yet again’ for the line that repeats in My Feminine Ways: “Once again, I fall into my feminine ways.” He chose well. Once is a perfect fit. Yet would have forced the music to stumble. Why?
Once and yet share easy, elastic beginnings. It’s their endings that divide them. No matter how softly you try to sing the final t of yet, it clinks up against the a of again. That’s its job – to clearly show where yet ends and again begins. That t would have interrupted and disrupted the smooth shape of the repeating line.
That final t forces the stream of sound to stop. In My Feminine Ways, t is a problem and a barrier. In other songs, like this or this, t is exactly what you need. Different sounds for different songs.
Once, with its slooshing ending, finishes clearly, but doesn’t interrupt the flow. Once again is a swooping sound that fits the music perfectly. The singer can put extra, long-suffering emphasis on the once, as a subtle change, not a full stop. Emphasising yet would have opened up a gap in the sound.
When you’re writing a song in English, the dictionary is your friend, but not your best friend. Always test a word in your mouth, then test it with the music. Alternatives are always available.
Why does feminine work so much better than womanly? Fall into rather than lapse into?
Songwriting is choice, not invention. Unless you’re Sigur Rós:
There is music within words, whether you speak them or sing them. It’s your job, as a songwriter in English, to choose words that present no obstacles for your music. A t or a g in the wrong place can clutter and block a stream of sound.
© Sing Better English, 2016