By the E, Pat Myers
(Headline stolen from a Facebook post by Nan Reiner on the Style Invitational Devotees page)
Believe me, it was a total coincidence that our annual dictionary-word limerick contest is running the day after Salon.com posted and widely publicized its own limerick contest. But what a convenient way to illustrate how much, well, better The Style Invitational’s light verse is.
The limerick that Salon cites as an example is mildly amusing, but it fails egregiously to rhyme. When Edward Lear wrote his proto-limericks in the mid-1800s, he tended not to be wildly clever (he’d often just repeat his opening line to be the closing one), but at least he’d never rhyme “Romney,” “money” and “trust me.” Yeesh.
I showed Salon’s example yesterday to Gene Weingarten, who is so intimate with my predecessor, the Czar of the Style Invitational, that he fathered the Czar’s children. Gene, who was on a train coming home from a funeral, responded: “That is not even a limerick! how could they DO that? That really pisses me off. That is embarrassing.”
Gene continued to be so riled up that he posted this on Twitter, his communication medium of choice (yeah, I know, it really makes sense for someone whose best work consists of 8,000-word magazine articles): “An ezine by name of Salon/ Wrote a limerick entirely wrong / The rhymes are awful/ Terrible is syntax / And the meter sucks.”
Our limericks, of course, will not suck. Make sure you peruse my handy-dandy guide to writing a limerick, “Get Your Rick Rolling,” at wapo.st/limrules It’s an updated reprint to the guide I posted for our last limerick contest, but I did drop my insistence on an unaccented beat between two lines.
We’ve been working with Oedilf.com once a year since that site was just a few months old. Chris Strolin, a Belleville, Ill., knife salesman, came up with the life’s goal of coming up with a limerick for every word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and started up his Web site — the Oxford English Dictionary in Limerick Form — in 2004. He soon was mentioned in a newspaper story, and it took almost no time for the actual Oxonians to throw a big tanty and demand that he change the name and get away from their precious little ivory towers. So now we have, officially, the OMNIFICENT English Dictionary in Limerick Form, which aims to come up with at least one limerick illustrating every word in THE dictionary — and it’s now well over 75,000 limericks and not through the first five letters of the alphabet.
Chris’s quest has brought collaborators from all over the English-speaking world — and by no means in small part from the Loser Community. Most notably, our own Chris Doyle learned about Oedilf from the Invite and soon became a fixture there; he’s contributed more than 5,000 limericks (and you know they’re all good ones) and also served as an editor to “workshop” other people’s limericks into their best form. And the ink has flowed both ways: Oedilf’s No. 1 contributor, Sheila Blume, who’s written 10,000 (YES!) lims for Oedilf, regularly enters the Limerixicon and has nine blots of Invite ink from our eight contests. And there are lots of other limericians who’ve gotten ink in both places (Oedilf permits pen names; we don’t, so some of the Oedilf names aren’t familiar to me even if they’re actually attached to Losers).
As I point out in “’Rick Rolling,” Oedilf and the Invite have differing aims; Oedilf likes humor, but it’s not absolutely necessary for its limericks; many of its lims are craftily worded definitions, but not really jokes. It’s much more important to the Invitational that a limerick have an interesting final line, something that makes a humorous point (often with wordplay). This requirement really tripped up a lot of the Oedilf regulars the first year we encouraged them to enter, but I’ve seen their work become funnier and funnier as the years went on.
MARKED IMPORVEMENT*: THE RESULTS OF WEEK 980
*”Imporved” is a long-running inside joke among the Losers; it derives from the wording on some long-ago prize. The Losers award plaques each year to the “most imporved” and “least imporved” contestants.
Even the most consistent successes among the Greater Loser Community sometimes just can’t think of a really good way to define a neologism. But they tend to be able to coin new words that SHOULD have a good definition, from someone. I guess that’s why Kevin Dopart, the Cal Ripken of Loserdom (he’s never missed a contest and has never failed to be the year’s top-scoring Loser), ended up having submitted at least five of the words in Week 976 that I thought could be better defined by the Cloud.
I was a bit concerned that I’d supplied so many similar-sounding words in the list for Week 980, such as three words starting with “ego-”; “laffast” and “lafado”; “hyphoon” and “harpoonerisms.” And as always when 200 people are working with the same short list of words, I iknew that there would be much duplication of ideas. But as you can see from the results, funny wording of definitions, and especially laugh-out-loud sentences used as examples, gave me plenty of material to use, and from an especially long list of inking entrants — I’ll be sending out a whole lot of prize letters. (Not sure when, since I’ll be on vacation for part of next week, but they’ll get them eventually.)
It’s the first Inkin’ Memorial — in fact, the first ink “above the fold” — for Paul Burnham of the Washington exurb of Gainesville, Va. Paul had a fabulous week, getting three blots of ink — which raises his total inkage by 50 percent. (The Bob-o-Lincs, as we fondly call the bobblehead, are still in transit; our first order of 15 ran out, and we’re waiting for the commissioned order of 200 little guys to arrive. Warren at Bobbleheads.com expects them by the end of next week.)
At the other end of the ink spectrum is Hall of Famer Tom Witte, who makes fun of his own entirely unrestrained fountains of neologism in just about every contest like this. When there was no 25-entry limit per contest, Tom would routinely send in of 200 neologisms in a week — many of them not exactly the products of discriminating choice. But the man is amazing; he just rolls these things off his fingers. His e-mail subject lines are neologisms. And given his somewhat less-than-prim sense of humor, I think he’ll enjoy playing with the Stress Relief Kitty when he gets back down from the mountains he’s climbing on vacation this month.
I was delighted to see that Jon Reiser had returned to Loserland after several years’ absence; Jon started entering the Invite right after I took over, and got a career-high 36 inks in his first year. Then he tailed off noticeably and had almost disappeared in the past few seasons. So it was great to see a long, very funny list from Jon. Hope he’s back for good. (Our Upstate New York bureau is clearly thriving, with Jon joining prolific Losers Martin Bancroft and Melissa Balmain in the Rochester area.) Jon probably doesn’t have any of our current runner-up prizes — the T-shirt, the mug or the Grossery Bag — so I’ll just pick something for him unless he gets back to me.
And a classic pithy one-liner from Ward Kay, who grabs his 11th above-the-fold ink and his 33rd blot — an amazing ratio.
Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford is back to her accustomed and timely exuberance this week with “HAWS GALORE! Loved today’s SI. Fave: Punfail w/ close tie of Mentra [Barry Koch] and biPod [Kevin Dopart]. Maybe they all tie for my fave.”
As for this week’s unprintables, I did place a few of the more risque entries online only; it’s only in the print edition that we ever get a taste complaint. They include Neal Starkman’s “beemen” and Ellen Raphaeli’s really very mild “butthoven” entry featuring “Asstoral,” my favorite among the many cute rear-end puns on Beethoven’s works.
The only entry I thought was really clever but totally unprintable was this one from Saul Singer: “Nixotica: Dick wad.”
SEE YOU LATER (than usual. Probably.)
As I’d mentioned three weeks ago, the Royal Family and I are going camping for a couple of nights next week; it’s not exactly a round-the-world cruise, but it’s all that we could work out with our various schedules. We’re leaving Wednesday morning and will be back Friday evening. M y plan is to have next week’s Invite totally written and approved before I leave, and for someone in the newsroom to post it online next Thursday. I won’t be able to send out the announcement to my e-mail list, though, until I get back. So if you want to know when next week’s contest is online, either keep checking wapo.st/StyleInv or join up with Style Invitational Devotees; some pathetic Losers out there will be hitting their Refresh buttons all afternoon, and will pass the news on. The Conversational might also be finished before I leave, and I can set it to publish Thursday night. Then again, it might not. Remember that this will be the week that I’m running some new inkworthy entries from recent contests. Whatever. Just keep writing those limericks. And rhyme the suckers.