Last night, I had the distinct honor of introducing my 8-year old daughter to limericks. She happened on the word “limerick” in a book she was reading about an Irish family and some adventure of some sort (I didn’t read it, ok). I gently corrected her pronunciation “lime rick” with “limmerick”. She asked, “What’s a limerick?”
It had been quite a while since I remembered last reading or hearing a limerick, but I remembered instantly it was a form of poem. I went to the internet to give proper examples. I read a few and asked if she had noticed a pattern. Not yet. I read her a couple more, and it started to sink in.
But what else started to sink in was that warm nostalgic feeling when something is distantly familiar. I knew I liked a limerick that I first heard when I was around her age. But what was it? I remembered it being unconventional. Piece by piece, it started to come back to me.
A standard limerick goes something like this:
I’m writing my own limerick
I hope that it won’t make you sick
If you read them too much
Or the content is such
They are likely to make you say, “Ick!”
Limericks have 5 lines and an AABBA rhyme scheme. The first two lines rhyme with the last one, the 3rd and 4th are shorter to set up the big punchline at the end with line number 5. Brilliant!
But my favorite limericks don’t follow the conventions of the standard limerick. I think that is why I like them so much. Here is one:
There once was a man from the sticks
Who wanted to write limericks
But he failed at the sport
For he wrote them too short
That’s it, four lines long, ends without the rhyme resolving, but clean, cute and clever. I enjoy it so, because it’s humor is completely dependent on your understanding of the limerick pattern. It has no comedic value if you don’t expect the fifth line to come. Comic genius!
My other favorite limerick is also a break of convention. It goes something like this:
There once was a man from the wood
Whose limericks weren’t so good
‘Cause try as he may
The rhymes were okay
But he always tried to shove as many syllables into the last line as he possibly could
Both of these limericks poke fun at the limerick form and break it for comedy’s sake, like meta-jokes.
I tend to avoid clichés whenever possible, as they bore me. Hearing limericks like these when I was young let me know it was ok to be different and that humor can be innovative. In a weird way, these limericks helped me to find confidence in my sense of humor. If someone thought they were funny enough to put in a book; and I thought they were funny; surely there were others that would be amused by them as well.