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A limerick is a five-line poem with a strict form, originally popularized in English by Edward Lear one morn, which intends to be funny or witty, but often ends up being shitty, and is sometimes obscene with humorous content about porn.

The following limerick is fun, it points out the lack of words like "cum", needs more smut, maybe a slut? I would love to see some bum.

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

Gershon Legman, who compiled the largest and most scholarly anthology, held that the true limerick as a folk form is always obscene, and cites similar opinions by Arnold Bennett and George Bernard Shaw,<ref>Legman 1988, pp. x-xi.</ref> describing the clean limerick as a periodic fad and object of magazine contests, rarely rising above mediocrity. From a folkloric point of view, the form is essentially transgressive; violation of taboo is part of its function.

Perhaps the best-known limericks in modern times are the many obscene versions that begin There once was a man from Nantucket.


The standard form of a limerick is a stanza of five lines, with the first, second and fifth having nine syllables and rhyming with one another, and the third and fourth having five or six and rhyming separately. Lines are usually written in the anapaestic meter, but can also be amphibrachic.

The first line traditionally introduces a person and a place, with the place appearing at the end of the first line and establishing the rhyme scheme for the second and fifth lines. In early limericks, the last line was often essentially a repeat of the first line, although this is no longer customary.

Within the genre, ordinary speech stress is often distorted in the first line, and may be regarded as a feature of the form: "There was a young man from the coast;" "There once was a girl from Detroit…" Legman takes this as a convention whereby prosody is violated simultaneously with propriety.<ref>Legman 1988, p. xliv.</ref> Exploitation of geographical names, especially exotic ones, is also common, and has been seen as invoking memories of geography lessons in order to subvert the decorum taught in the schoolroom; Legman finds that the exchange of limericks is almost exclusive to comparatively well-educated males, women figuring in limericks almost exclusively as "villains or victims". The most prized limericks incorporate a kind of twist, which may be revealed in the final line or lie in the way the rhymes are often intentionally tortured, or both. Many limericks show some form of internal rhyme, alliteration or assonance, or some element of wordplay.

Verses in limerick form are sometimes combined with a refrain to form a limerick song, a traditional humorous drinking song often with obscene verses.

Origin of the name[edit]

The origin of the actual name limerick for this type of poem is obscure. Its usage was first documented in England in 1898 (New English Dictionary) and in America in 1902.<ref>Loomis 1963, pp. 153–157.</ref> It is generally taken to be a reference to the County of Limerick in Ireland (particularly the Maigue Poets), and may derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse parlour game that traditionally included a refrain that ended "Come all the way up to Limerick?"

Edward Lear[edit]

A Book of Nonsense (ca. 1875 James Miller edition) by Edward Lear
The limerick form was popularized by Edward Lear in his first Book of Nonsense (1845) and a later work (1872) on the same theme. Lear wrote 212 limericks, mostly nonsense verse. It was customary at the time for limericks to accompany an absurd illustration of the same subject, and for the final line of the limerick to be a kind of conclusion, usually a variant of the first line ending in the same word.

The following is an example of one of Edward Lear's limericks.

There was a Young Person of Smyrna
Whose grandmother threatened to burn her;
But she seized on the cat, and said, 'Granny, burn that!
You incongruous old woman of Smyrna!'

(Lear's limericks were often typeset in three or four lines, according to the space available under the accompanying picture.)



There is a sub-genre of poems that take the twist and apply it to the limerick itself. These are sometimes called anti-limericks.

The following example, of unknown origin, subverts the structure of the true limerick by changing the number of syllables in the lines.

There was a young man from Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why this was,
He answered "It's because
I always try to fit as many syllables into the last line as ever possibly I can."

Other anti-limericks follow the meter of a limerick but deliberately breaks the rhyme scheme, like the following example, attributed to W.S. Gilbert, in a parody of a limerick by Lear.

There was an old man of St. Bees,
Who was stung in the arm by a wasp;
When they asked, "Does it hurt?"
He replied, "No, it doesn't,
But I thought all the while 't was a Hornet."<ref>Wells 1903, pp. xix-xxxiii.</ref>

Yet another sort of anti-limerick, found in "House of Cards" by some human whose name I do not recall, is as follows:

There once was a man named Wood
Whose limericks weren't very good
He said, "Though I rhyme
Most all of the time,
Sometimes I loose track of my scansion and forget what the hell I'm doing."


  • Baring-Gould, William Stuart and Ceil Baring-Gould (1988). The Annotated Mother Goose, Random House.
  • Legman, Gershon (1964). The Horn Book, University Press.
  • Legman, Gershon (1988). The Limerick, Random House.
  • Loomis, C. Grant (1963). Western Folklore, Vol. 22, No. 3 (July, 1963).
  • Wells, Carolyn (1903). A Nonsense Anthology, Charles Scribner's Sons.

External links[edit]

Limerick bibliographies: