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In the poem “The Rum Tum Tugger” by T S Eliot, I found a use of do that looks utterly weird to me. This is the first stanza:

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he'd rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he'd rather chase a mouse.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat—
And there isn't any call for me to shout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there's no doing anything about it!

The last three lines repeat in every stanza.

My problem is that I cannot understand the use of the "do" in bold.

If it were an emphatic do it should have been does.

Is the poet overlooking the grammar for it to look nicer?

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I think Eliot wanted to match it with the 'do' in the preceding line.

Or it was 'As he does* do' (which — although whimsical — is a grammatical sentence), but he changed the 'does' to 'do' to fit the style and meter of the poem.


*(I believe it's the emphatic does but he changed it to do.)

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  • Who does using does change the meter of the poem? It's the same number of syllables. – Teleporting Goat Oct 26 '20 at 10:04
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    @TeleportingGoat: I meant: to rhyme it with 'do' in the preceding line – Void Oct 26 '20 at 10:08
  • @Void, how does the difference between "As he do do" and "As he does do" affect the rhyme? – I'm with Monica Oct 26 '20 at 12:08
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It is a subjunctive, but a silly-sounding one, and very "non-natural" which is why the Elliot has used it: for the joke of having "do do".

It's not something to use in normal speech, nor even in "normal poems".

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    How is it a "subjunctive"? Would you please elaborate on a bit? – user100323 Oct 24 '20 at 8:02
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    It's not "subjunctive". It's a form of Do-support (or do-insertion) as usually used for emphasis (as in I do do what I'm told, emphatic / refutative alternative to the natural "single verb" version I do what I'm told). – FumbleFingers Oct 24 '20 at 14:26
  • No, I believe it is subjunctive: the auxiliary in the subjunctive, or else it will be does. The grounds for subjunctive are weak: I think "as he do do" is a sort of irrealis (even though it is actually realis!) – Colin Fine Oct 24 '20 at 23:20
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    It's not subjunctive, but everything else in this answer is correct: it's plainly just a silly-sounding way of saying "he will do as he does do," i.e., "he will do as he pleases (and btw did I mention he's a cat and doesn't care about your Earth grammar)." – Quuxplusone Oct 25 '20 at 0:35
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    No one is disputing that it's do-support - the question is whether the auxiliary "do", used for emphasis, has been put into the subjunctive. However, because the grounds for subjunctive are so weak here, I think Quuxplusone may be right. – rjpond Oct 25 '20 at 13:01
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You are perfectly correct: standard English would be "as he does do". But many dialects of English, especially a hundred years ago, used the infinitive form of auxiliary verbs such as do and be. Eliot is "dumbing down" his grammar for comic effect.

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  • It would be better to call it the plain form. Yeah, it is the same as the infinitive in form, but when I say "I swim", I think it would be confusing to describe "swim" as the infinitive form. However, you may be right. There are many dialects out there, and they were more vibrant then than now. – rjpond Oct 25 '20 at 13:03
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    You be treadin' on thin ice there, I warrant, @rjpond – TonyK Oct 25 '20 at 14:19

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