Schuttelreim Poetry Form: Be a Master in Rhymes

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Here’s what the Schuttelreim poetry form is:

Schuttelreim is primarily considered a German poetic device, but as of the 19th century there have been couplets specifically centered around it.

A schuttelreim involves taking the last two words of a line and swapping the initial consonant sounds, ending up with a new phrase for the next line.

So if you want to learn all about the Schuttelreim poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s get right to it!

Schuttelreim Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: Schuttelreim

Redhead woman sit on green grass covering face with a book

Schuttelreim (literally “Shaking Rhyme”) is a device involving the swapping of sounds in a line that has been in use in German poetry since around the 13th century.

Though its popularity for creating entertaining couplets is relatively recent, having come into prominence around the 19th century.

While calling these tiny little couplets a poem form may seem unusual, keep in mind that a poem can technically be as short as a single line.

As such, these unambitious couplets can still be considered a poem form as long as they’re written to stand alone, though the device itself can be employed in longer poems.

It’s worth noting that English has a nearly exact equivalent term.

If you’re familiar with the term “spoonerisms,” named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner, then the rest of this article will sound very familiar to you.

Basic Properties of Schuttelreim

alluring woman wearing straw hat smiling and holding diary book while sitting in a chair at a park
Rhyme StructureRhymed couplets
OriginGermany, 13th century (device), 19th century (couplets)

What Exactly Is a Schuttelreim?

Young woman writes in diary

Schuttelreim, as a poem form, consists of two rhymed lines in which the initial consonant sounds of the last two words are swapped.

This is the only true standard of the form, though lines will usually be around the same length to enhance the effect.

Socially speaking, its role is rather similar to the limerick in that it’s a poem mostly used for humor and rarely written to be taken seriously.

Just like the limerick, there are entire written collections of schuttelreims in Germany, generally treated as a casual form of entertainment, especially for children.

Example of a Schuttelreim

Cozy tea party at garden with book, teapot, candle, flowers, blanket.

A loud and rambunctious bold cat
may find itself struck with a cold bat.

After the refreshing, flowing showers,
we can see the newly showing flowers.

As I was sitting, eating trail snacks,
I stumbled across newly laid snail tracks.

As you might expect from a form that’s only really a comedic couplet, there’s not much to explain.

The above examples should tell you most of what you need to know.

Note that in the case where two letters act as one sound BOTH should swap to the other word for maximum effects.

Schuttelreims should be more focused on the verbal pronunciation of the words than the written spelling.

So “big phone” and “fig bone” can be safely matched to each other, since the ‘f’ and the ‘ph’ effectively make the same sound when spoken.

The only real difference between a schuttelreim and the English term “spoonerism” is that we tend to think of spoonerisms as something that happens by accident when you’re absent-minded, so it might include nonsense words.

Spoonerisms also tend to be one-liners instead of couplets.

So while a schuttelreim will generally be purposeful and feel like a poem (albeit a very short one), a spoonerism can be something like meaning to ask, “Can you fetch the keys?” and accidentally saying, “Can you catch the fees?”

No meaningful connection between the two phrases is expected in a spoonerism.

Tips for Writing a Schuttelreim

open notepad with pen on wooden table

This form is odd because the practice of writing them is really more tedious than it is difficult.

Think of a word that has a lot of rhymes, like sky or dog.

Focus on one of those rhymes.

So for dog, I might choose to focus in on log.

Next comes a lot of mental trial and error.

Put words that start with ‘L’ in front of dog, so that we can end on log and see if the swapped words still make sense.

Little dog doesn’t work because “dittle” isn’t a word. Loyal becomes “doyal.”

We need a word that starts with ‘L’ and becomes another word when you replace it with ‘D.’

“Lame” technically works, but now we run into the second problem.

While “lame dog” is easy to put at the end of a line, “dame log” is definitely more of a stretch.

Ideally, we would end up with an adjective or verb, so we can either try to make “dame log” work somehow or we can keep brainstorming new words.

Having a list of adjectives that start with ‘L’ open can help, since we can just go down the list until we find a word that makes sense when you replace the ‘L’ with ‘D’ and put it in front of “log.”

In a worst-case scenario we can just swap out one of the words.

Maybe instead of dog for the first word, we go with bog. This way we have “log” and “bog.”

Beautiful young woman writing into her diary, in the garden

But let’s assume we really want to stick with dog and log for a minute.

We could eventually end up running into lashing, a verb that matches to “dashing,” which can be either a verb or an adjective.

So one possible schuttelreim is:

The quick-running, tongue-lashing dog
fell into the river, off of a rather dashing log.

But if you were to give up before running across this pairing and switch over to “bog” then you might end up with:

Deep in the old and lumpy bog
a cold frog hides in a bumpy log.

This one works perfectly, since “bog” and “log” naturally fit into the same setting.

There are even some opportunities for more rhymes within the lines, such as old/cold and frog/bog/log.

I took full advantage of them since you should always be looking for ways to make a poem as interesting as it can be.

There are other ways to juggle the words in your head, but I wanted to describe at least one full mental process in detail.

More obsession and craftsmanship go into short poems than you might expect and the unassuming schuttelreim is an excellent example.

Poet’s Note


I can’t believe I managed to write this much about a two-line poem form that only just barely qualifies as a poem, but here we are.

Swapping sounds around is a fun trick for killing time if nothing else.

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