melodious song

A colleague was involved in a cultural night. The flyer for it promised “dances, drama and melodious song”. I’ve been pondering the grammar and usage of melodious song, and have come to very few conclusions. 

Dance, drama and song can all be used uncountably and countably: we can present “dance, drama and song” or “a dance, a drama and a song” or “dances, dramas and songs” (or any combination of those – I would have preferred that the flyer was consistent in its usage). But uncountable song seems to be used less than dance or drama: I’m studying dance, ?dancing, drama, *dramaing (because drama is not a verb, therefore can’t become a gerund), ?song, singing. It also seems to resist being modified by an adjective more than dance or drama: we can present classical dance, modern dance, classical drama, modern drama, ?classical song, ?modern song.

One Facebook friend suggested that we expect songs to be melodious, so actually saying so is superfluous. Maybe so, but 20th century ‘modern classical’ composers produced a number of unmelodious songs. Another suggested that the problem is the final /s/ of melodious followed by the initial /s/ of song. I offered harmonious song as a comparison.

Google Ngrams shows:

popular~new~old~first~same~little~beautiful~sweet~following~sacred song,

a(n) new~popular~old~little~good~beautiful~sweet~single~ancient~comic song,

the same~first~old~popular~last~following~whole~new~sweet~choral song,

popular~news~old~other~many~such~patriotic~spiritual~sacred~national songs and

the old~same~popular~other~new~best~sacred~sweet~choral~national songs,

all of which suggests … something about uncountable and countable song(s) and a(n) and the, which I can’t figure out right now.

Melodious song is certainly used, but only about half as much as sacred in the first search.

If I was creating or advising about that flyer, I would probably choose or advise “dance, drama and song”. Keep it simple and keep it consistent.


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