The Green Eggs And Ham Book
As a private joke, Bennett Cerf later bet Ted fifty dollars that he couldn’t write a book using only fifty different words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham.
The book was first read aloud in April 1960 at a small dinner party held for a select group of Random House executives.
According to Seuss’s biography, “the room erupted with huzzahs and demands that he read it again”.
Bennett Cerf made a ceremony of conceding that Ted had won the fifty-dollar bet but Ted always said that his friend never actually paid him the fifty dollars!
The Writing of Green Eggs and Ham
The fifty words used in Green Eggs and Ham are:
They’re some of the simplest words in the English language but this gorgeously-nonsensical story was not easy to write.
Among Ted Geisel’s papers are worksheets which show just how gruelling the process really was. There are charts, lists and number counts which record the words he used most often: ‘not’ (82 times) and ‘I’ (81 times). All the words he used are single-syllable words except ‘anywhere’ (8 times).
For the technically-minded, Green Eggs and Ham is written in ‘iambic tetrameter.’ This is the name for the simple meter - or rhythm - Ted used when he was writing.
An ‘iamb’ is a unit of poetry consisting of two syllables. This unit is also called a ‘foot.’ In iambic tetrameter each line has four (tetra) such feet, or eight syllables in total.
If you read the following lines from Green Eggs and Ham aloud and listen as you read them, you’ll see that in each foot or iamb or pair of syllables, one syllable is stressed (in bold) while the other is not.
Notice that, in this example, there are two pairs of lines. These pairs are called ‘couplets’ and the two lines that make up each couplet rhyme with each other.
Notice also how Ted uses ‘Sam-I-am’. This unusual arrangement of the words rhymes with ‘green-eggs-and-ham’ and uses the same metric emphasis.
Why Do We Love ‘Green Eggs and Ham’?
Because the book has been so popular over so many years, many people have tried to explain why Green Eggs and Ham is so appealing.
The animator Chuck Jones (who helped create Bugs Bunny) said that the unexpected is always the most interesting thing to human beings.
He pointed out that in Green Eggs and Ham Ted took a common phrase – ham and eggs – reversed it and made the eggs green. Both the reversal and the idea of green eggs are unexpected and create an unusual phrase which commands the attention of the reader.
Ted’s use of ‘Sam-I-am’ also grabs our attention because it’s unexpected. We expect to read ‘I am Sam’ and are slightly puzzled when we read ‘Sam-I-Am’ instead.
Another part of the appeal may have to do with the defiant tone of the story.
Sam-I-Am drives his victim crazy, chasing him everywhere in an attempt to get him to eat something revolting, but is never reprimanded for it.
Children love this kind of story because it allows them to fantasize about things they wouldn’t be able to do in real life.
They relish the idea of being able to behave in ways that are forbidden and ‘naughty’ with no adults around to stop them or to punish them. They identify with Sam and thrill to his terrible taunting and harassment, even though they wouldn’t really want to do what Sam does!
Green Eggs and Ham
Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel
Most of the information on this page comes from this fascinating biography of Dr Seuss.
It was written by a couple who were close friends of Ted Geisel and his wife over many years and provides a wealth of information about Ted, his early life and his work.
It's not an easy book to get hold of but it's available through the
if you'd like to buy a copy.
Green Eggs and Ham