Vo­cab

Friday - - Mind Games -

Which Ir­ish city is con­nected to a verse form? The lim­er­ick, of course – you know, that clever five-line struc­ture that nar­rates a brief story or anec­dote, in witty rhyme, with the first, sec­ond and fifth lines rhyming and a lit­tle longer than the third and fourth lines (which rhyme dif­fer­ently), and with the fifth line serv­ing as the punch­line.

Ed­ward Lear, a 19th-cen­tury English au­thor of non­sense prose and verse, in­vented the lim­er­ick by all ac­counts, al­though the form did ex­ist with­out def­i­ni­tion a hun­dred years ear­lier, as in the nurs­ery rhyme Hick­ory Dick­ory Dock.

But a fifth punch­line? Not in Lear’s work, for the most part. In fact lim­er­ick con­nois­seurs (if we can call them that) pooh-pooh Lear’s habit of sim­ply re­peat­ing, or slightly mod­i­fy­ing his first line, as in: “There was an Old Man with a nose, Who said, ‘If you choose to sup­pose, That my nose is too long, You are cer­tainly wrong!’ That re­mark­able Man with a nose.”

Re­tain­ing the link between lim­er­icks and nurs­ery rhymes is an oc­to­ge­nar­ian au­thor who goes by the sin­gle name Arthur, who writes a blog wherein he ‘ver­si­fies’ many fa­mous verses into lim­er­icks.

Here’s Three Blind Mice; “Have you heard of the tale of three mice, It’s a tale I shall tell, though not nice. A wife with a knife Nearly cost them their life, They would not take their par­ents’ ad­vice.”

In the early 1900s lim­er­ick com­pe­ti­tions run by news­pa­pers gen­er­ated huge rev­enues for the postal ser­vices. The pa­per pro­vided the first four lines, and a con­tes­tant would sub­mit the fifth, and the wit­ti­est one ad­judged would be the win­ner.

When ac­com­plished word­smiths com­pose a lim­er­ick you can be sure of some ex­tra­or­di­nary wit, as in this ef­fort by Jeremiah and Karen Far­rell: “Spell­ing can be some­times quite odd. There’s no T in China... While in each Bonnet, There’s a B on it: And merely one P in a Pod”.

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