The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
Loser-friendly discussion with The Empress of The Style Invitational

Week 942: Hit a single and win — and the Lear Jetsam

By the E, Pat Myers

When this week’s contest ran the first time — in May 1999 — the Czar of The Style Invitational noted that “there were some fine entries, but most stank.” Then he filled space with a digression about the prize.

The thing is, though, that (a) he had more space on the page to fill back then; and (b) the results were funny: indeed, “some fine entries.” It doesn’t matter that “most stank.” Hey, every single week, I can tell you that “most stank.” Even in the limerick contest we celebrate below.

As you can see from the results of Week 317, the contest basically turned into a list of pun-riddles, only in the rather wordy format of calling each entry a singular contest. If that’s what it turns into again, I’d be happy with that. But I can see it going in other directions as well. And in the highly unlikely event that I’D have space to fill, I can always use a couple of limericks.


Despite the protestations of a couple of vocal Losers, it sure seems that people enjoy limericks -- enjoy writing them, anyway (or enjoy writing what they think are limericks). And Week 938 turned out to be by far the most frequently entered of all the limerick contests we’ve had over the years; 1,569 limericks sent in 349 e-mails. And out of that, while, yes, most stank, there were at least 200 to which I’d have been perfectly happy to award a magnet (though some of them were too-similar plays on a word, phrase or idea, and some that were just too risque; ahem, see below). From that “short list” — which included plays on at least 100 of the 115 limericks available — I chose the three dozen or so that appear today (13 in the print paper), including work from five First Offenders.

Kevin Dopart’s suggestion to use the first two lines of any of Edward Lear’s 1800s original, rather than just the first line, was the key, I think: It gave people a nice firm setup, but still allowed for great variation in the remaining three lines.

Lear’s “nonsense verses,” published from 1846 to 1861, according to the site we used to link to the public-domain limericks, certainly don’t tend to be funny or clever, as we consider those adjectives today. They don’t usually tell a funny story, as a joke does, and don’t build to a punch line; usually the last line is the first line with one key word changed, to sum up the action of the previous lines. Most of their humor stems instead from two other elements:

Most significant, I think, are the amusing drawings that Lear sketched to accompany all the limericks — in fact, it seems more that the limerick accompanies the drawing. (Lear also drew the illustrations for his famous poem “The Owl and the Pussycat.”)

And as weird as some of them sound to modern American ears, Lear used a lot of creative, funny rhymes that readers probably found a real hoot back in 1846. You have to read them in a broad, comical English accent: Kamschatka/ fat cur; Columbia/ some beer (“Jolly chap, might you bring us here in Columbiahhh some biahhh?”); Parma/ calmer (“pahma”/ “cahma”); Moldavia/ behavior; Thermopylae; properly. If you account for those creative rhymes and the British pronunciation, Lear’s rhyming almost always hews to the standards of “perfect rhyme” — it doesn’t rhyme, say, “toad” and “Rhodes,” or “pest” and “merest.” (See below for some of the bad rhymes I received.)

Still, the Losers have definitely made Lear’s limericks a lot more fun, if no longer suitable for children (just think of what the drawings would be for some of the revised versions).

It’s the first Inker for the ace limerician Hugh Thirlway, a law professor and World Court potentate who’s had ink with 12 previous limericks over the years before his two more today. Under a pseudonym, Hugh also is a frequent contributor to, the limerick-the-dictionary site we work with for our annual Limerixicon contest.

It’s, well, the first Doody Head prize for Brendan Beary, a Style Invitational Hall of Fame inductee with more than 800 blots of ink, and, along with the great Chris Doyle, one of the dueling limericists in our 10-round smackdown a few years ago.

The rookie but already familiar Robert Schechter grabs Inks 8 and 9, and his third “above-the-fold” award. Robert is one of the Losers who’ve been spinning out limericks along with other high and low repartee on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook, and we’re pleased to see that he has a severe case of the Invite bug that we hope continues to run rampant.

And a Loser T-shirt or Loser Mug also goes out — along with the FirStink for his first ink — to Frank Osen of California, whose light and not-so-light poetry has been published elsewhere a number of times. All four of this week’s top Ink-blotters each submitted at least a dozen limericks; among them, they could easily have filled today’s results.

In fact, there was just an embarrassment of riches this week from so many people. I feel bad for the numerous entrants who wrote one or sometimes several very fine limericks but ended up not getting ink. The list includes frequent Losers Dudley Thompson, Dave Zarrow, Art Grinath, Phyllis Reinhard, Amanda Yanovitch, Jeff Contompasis, Ward Kay, Rob Cohen, Brian Cohen, Barry Koch, Barbara Turner, Elliott Schiff, John Glenn, Matt Monitto, Pam Sweeney, Barrie Collins, John Bunyan, Marc Naimark, Roy Ashley, Rob Huffman, Valerie Matthews, Larry Gray, Jim Deutsch, Susan Thompson, and Kathy El-Assal.

And perhaps even more painfully omitted: impressive work from newcomers and irregular entrants Marianne Votaw, Mary Jane Mitchell, David Lewis, Jerry Birchmore, Byron Miller, John Washbush, Pauline Sholtys, Paul Burnham, Rob Aldrich (except below), Jan Broulik, Gene Reiher, Elizabeth Woiwode, David Hershfield, Carol Passar, Rosemary Mack, Chaya Shuchat, and Kathleen Brasington. Don’t go away, people – you definitely have the right idea!

The weekly “Haw!” from Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford goes to the final limerick on the list (it’s also the final verse in the print paper), Chris Doyle’s dig at The Post’s “taste police,” as the more decorous editors are called in the Post newsroom.

I continue to be shocked, but no longer surprised, if that’s possible, how people don’t intuitively grasp what a rhyme is in a limerick. Here are some of the alleged rhymes I received: “a pin”/“Michael Jackson”; Norway/doorway/ far away; “tie ‘em”/bottom; Texas/ inject us; neck/ text; sabers/ razors; retells/ nails; beat/ weep; north/ worth; infest one/ question; prophet/ adjust it; least/knees; nose/toes/comatose; tax it/ bracket; hostage/postage; void/ McCoy; purple/ nipple; curtsey/posy; ruder/murder; stood still/ don’t tell; circles/miracles; important/ consultant.


Perhaps it wasn’t until after Lear’s time that limericks began to be associated with risque subject matter; his verses certainly weren’t scandalous even by Victorian standards. But, hey, when The Style Invitational asks its writers to make them more entertaining to modern readers, a lot of limericks are going to venture into R-rated territory. I already slipped two PG-13s — Bird Waring’s and especially David Smith’s — into the nether reaches of the Web-only list, but there were literally dozens of submissions that were more graphic than those two. Here are a few (and really, if you’re offended by this type of humor, please stop reading now; you’ve already gotten through 1,172 words).

There was an Old Person of Burton,
Whose answers were rather uncertain.
They asked, “When you date,
Do you leave things to fate,
Or prepare for some flirtin’ and squirtin’?” (David Goldberg)

There was a Young Lady of Norway,
Who casually sat on a doorway;
And while she was workin’
She wore a soft merkin.
It kept her quite hot — in a whore way. (Phyllis Reinhard)

There was an Old Lady whose folly
Induced her to sit on a holly.
When she felt a big prick
She jumped up really quick
To find Santa smiling, all jolly. (Rob Aldrich)

There was an Old Man of Moldavia
Who had the most curious behaviour.
He would beg ladies’ pardons
While pruning their gardens,
Then grin: “I’d be happy to shaviour.” (Chris Doyle)

There was an Old Man of the coast
Who placidly sat on a post
Without lubrication,
In deep meditation --
Or such was the thrust of his boast . (Dixon Wragg -- or perhaps we should call him Poston)

There was a Young Lady of Poole
Whose soup was excessively cool;
So she called up a Boy Scout,
Her fav’rite boy-toy scout
To turn up the heat with his tool. (David Goldberg)

The was an old man who said, “Hush!
I perceive a young bird in this bush!”
I think he referred
To the bush on a bird,
Nice and young, which was hairy and lush. (Hugh Thirlway)

There was an Old Man with a gong,
Who bumped at it all day long;
His wife said, “Who cares?
It sure beats the stares
When he went around wringing his dong.” (Frank Osen)


Loserfest Pope Kyle Hendrickson — who’s assembled motley groups of Losers for several day and/or weekend excursions over the years — has a list of activities for this year’s trip, Nov. 5-6. I won’t be able to make it this time, but the Punkin’ Chunkin’ championship followed by an overnight at Rehoboth Beach (or either) sounds awfully fun. See the agenda at the bottom of last week’s Conversational.

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