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Limerick

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A Limerick composed with wit
Follows strict, concise logic in it
To give you a sense
And then send you hence,
The last word of this one is "shit".

While TV Tropes loves its haiku,
Don't limericks need their time too?
In works of all kinds
They grace our learned minds
So don't be so quick to pooh-pooh!

A limerick, so it must seem,
Is a poem that follows a scheme.
The rhyme does not sway
A-A-B-B-A
With line lengths that match. Peachy-cream!

...And that ends the Self-Demonstrating Article portion of this trope's description. If it goes any further, it's quite sure it'll drive us insane.

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A limerick is a poem of five lines that follows an A-A-B-B-A rhyme scheme as demonstrated above. The "A" lines usually have eight syllables, and the "B" lines five. It's a very recognizable pattern. (If we want to be technical, the pattern is an anapestic trimeter in the A lines, dimeter in the B lines. The anapest has two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable, giving the poem a bouncing sing-song feel.) The rhyming lines also often feature a double or triple rhyme, meaning multiple syllables rhyme rather than just the last one.

Compare Haiku, Purple Prose, and another short comic genre, the Feghoot. Limericks are often risqué and may qualify as a Bawdy Song. Also, playful poets will frequently subvert the form by messing with the last line; sometimes this is adding extra syllables, sometimes it's Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion.

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Examples

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    Literature 

  • The Trope Codifier is A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear (1845), which popularized the form for light verse. Lear's limericks featured his gentle nonsense humor and Perfectly Cromulent Words, and often repeated the first line as the last line. A representative sample:
    There was an Old Man with a beard,
    Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
    Two Owls and a Hen,
    Four Larks and a Wren,
    Have all built their nests in my beard!'
  • In Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers stories, Roger Halsted is fond of limericks, and often shares or even composes them during the dinner. During the first few stories, he's in the process of writing a limerick for each book of The Iliad ("And The Odyssey," he's always quick to add), but he soon seems to drop this project, or at least stops sharing the limericks at the Widowers' meetings.
    • "Truth to Tell": Halsted shares the first limerick he's adapted from The Iliad.
      Agamemnon, the top-ranking Greek.
      To Achilles in anger did speak.
      They argued a lot.
      Then Achilles grew hot.
      And went stamping away in a pique.
    • "Go, Little Book!": Halsted shares his second book, although the other characters point out that limerick purists would consider leaving out a syllable cheating.
      Agamemnon's dream strategy slips.
      The morale of his troops quickly dips.
      First Thersites complains.
      But Odysseus restrains.
      And we next have the Cat'log of Ships.
    • "Early Sunday Morning": Halsted shares the third limerick he's adapted from The Iliad.
      Menelaus, though not very mighty,
      Was stronger than Paris, the flighty.
      Menelaus did well in
      The duel over Helen,
      But was foiled by divine Aphrodite.
    • "The Obvious Factor": Halsted shares the fourth limerick he's adapted from The Iliad.
      Next a Lycian attempted a ruse
      With an arrow-permitted by Zeus.
      Who will trust Trojan candor, as
      This sly deed of Pandoras
      Puts an end to the scarce-proclaimed truce?
    • "Yankee Doodle Went To Town": Halsted shares the fifth limerick he's adapted from The Iliad.
      In courage and skill well ahead,
      Into battle went brave Diomed.
      Even gods were his quarries,
      And the war-loving Ares
      He struck down and left nearly for dead.
  • In Cetagenda by Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles composes limericks for himself during the poetry recital part of a funeral.
    A beautiful lady named Rian
    Hypnotized a Vor scion.
    The little defective
    Thinks he's a detective,
    But instead will be fed to the lion.
  • In Honor's Paradox by PC Hodgell, the singer Ashe performs a limerick with herself as the butt of the joke.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox: Both the book and the film adaptation feature this one:
    Boggis and Bunce and Bean. One fat, one short, one lean. Those horrible crooks. So different in looks. Were none-the-less equally mean!
  • Matilda: Matilda gets told a limerick and then writes one herself (about her teacher's face being lovely).
  • The Heroes of Olympus: One of the two prophecies Apollo gets in The Hidden Oracle takes the form of a Limerick.
    There was once a god named Apollo. Who plunged in a cave blue and hollow. Upon a three seater. The bronze fire eater. Was forced death and madness to follow.
  • In the previous series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, it's mentioned that Apollo once visited the city of Limerick itself and as a result became obsessed for a short time with making Limericks.
  • Ready Player One: The clue for where to find the copper key is in the form of a limerick, and thus appropriately called "The Limerick" among gunters.
    The Copper Key awaits explorers. In a tomb filled with horrors. But you have much to learn. If you hope to earn. A place among the high scorers."
  • One poetry textbook offered this example to demonstrate how anapestic meter is crucial to the effect of the form:
    The anapest left out
    Is wrong beyond a doubt.
    In rules of form
    You must conform
    To things you know about.

    Live Action TV 
  • Adam Adamant Lives!: Once per Episode, Simms would improvise a limerick on the situation at hand.
  • The Two Ronnies: The dialogue in the "Limerick Clinic" sketch combines to form a series of limericks.
  • Bassie & Adriaan: In "de Geheimzinnige Opdracht", during the episode set in Ireland, the two protagonists are kayaking and pass the town of Limerick. Naturally, they bring up a few examples of limericks. Bassie then improvises a limerick to explain why he wants to stop paddling and take a nap, leaving Adriaan to do all the work, but Adriaan counters with a limerick of his own.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Naked Now", Data learns a dirty limerick and tries to recite it to Picard, but is fortunately interrupted partway through.
    Data: There was a rather peculiar limerick being delivered by someone in the shuttlecraft bay. I'm not sure I understand it:
    "There was a young lady from Venus, whose body was shaped like a —"
    Picard: Captain to Security!
  • Qi: In the J season episode "Jolly", Stephen Fry challenged his panelists to come up with limericks. Alan Davies proved to be quite good at it, composing several:
    "It's easy to win on QI,
    You don't need an IQ that's high.
    Don't try to be haughty,
    Just be a bit naughty
    And make sure you please Stephen Fry."
    • In the L season episode "Literature", the cast made up new final lines to old Edward Lear limericks, going against his tendency to simply repeat the first line at the end of his poems:
      Stephen Fry: There once was a lady from Poole
      Who's soup was excessively cool.
      So she put it to boil
      With the aid of some oil...
      Victoria Coren-Mitchell: It was a recipe from Heston Blumenthal.
  • Babylon 5 uses this in the pilot episode. Sinclair and Delenn discuss the premise of the station, and Sinclair recites a line from the "Core poem" of the series - Ulysses by Tennyson. When Delenn Wonders about this, Sinclair explains what poetry is, to which Delenn quips: "There once was a man from Nantucket" (the first line of a Limerick). Sinclair responds: "You have spoken with Mr Garibaldi again."
  • Probe: 'Computer Logic': In this episode, Austin's passcode for the warehouse he lives/works in is the final line of a limerick. The passcode is designed to be hard to guess (it doesn't even rhyme!) so that people can't get in to bother him.
    There once was a poet named Gunderson,
    whose rhymes were exceedingly cumbersome.
    With each botched refrain,
    his complaint was the same,
    How do I get into these situations?
  • In Columbo episode "The Conspirators", the killer of the week is an Irish poet (and secret IRA terrorist). Columbo and the bad guy go on a Go-Karting with Bowser evening that ends with a limerick duel. Here's the first limerick as recited by Columbo:
    There once was an old man from Lyme
    Who married three wives at a time
    When asked why a third
    He replied one's absurd
    And two of them sir is a crime

    Radio 
  • Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! has The Listener Limerick Challenge as one of the call-in games. The caller has to fill in the last word of a limerick based on some current event. The rhyming makes it by far the easiest of the games.
    • One contestant's attempt at guessing the last word of this limerick wound up funnier than the actual answer (which, of course, was supposed to be Zombies):
    Carl: I can face all the undead hordes calmly,
    even if they can learn how to bomb me.
    In my fort I keep fresh,
    and they won’t eat my flesh.
    My new home will protect me from _________?
    Contestant: (confidently) Romney!
  • The Dutch radio channel Radio 10 has an afternoon programm called Somertijd (summer time), and one of the recurring elements involves Limericks based on remarkable or funny news stories.
  • In one episode of Cabin Pressure MJN flies to Limerick. Naturally the crew passes the time by composing some.
    Carolyn: The captain has turned on the signs, / so stow away bags of all kinds. / Then make sure your tray / is folded away / and your seat-back no longer reclines.
  • The limerick round on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue has the team compile them a line at a time, based on a first line supplied by the chairman. (Frequently, the first line will obviously rhyme with something rude, which the teams will usually diligently ignore as being too easy — while coming up with technically-clean punchlines that somehow sound absolutely filthy). A book was published collecting some of the best.
    Humph: There was a young lady named Chuck,
    Willie: And we're all wishing Barry good luck.
    Graeme: 'Twas an old merchant banker,
    Tim: Who finally sank 'er,
    Barry: With a highly-trained Muscovy duck.
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    Video Games 

    Web Comic 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In "Eeny Teeny Maya Moe", Homer is mocked because he can't remember limericks:
    Homer: I can too! There once was this guy from an island off the coast of Massachusetts, uh... Nantucket, I think it was. Anyway, he had the most unusual personal characteristic, which was, uh... um...
  • Spongebob Squarepants: The episode "Sleepy Time" features this gem:
    There once was a man from Peru. Who dreamt he was eating his shoe. He woke with a fright. In the middle of the night. To see that his dream had come true.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: has two from the episode "The Big Bash":
    Leprechaun: They say that poor Cosmo was dense / For betting his wife for five cents / If she knows, she'll be mad /If she goes, he'll be sad / I'm betting the pain is intense.
    Wanda: [enraged] YOU BET ME FOR A NICKEL?!!
    Cosmo: But, it was a shiny nickel.
    [Wanda strangles him]
    Wanda: Two fairies had a thought in their head, / That a bet could decide who'd I wed, / But when during their bout, / Their big secret got out... [summons angered guys from the trip]
    Juandissimo: ...And now both of those morons are dead?
  • Gravity Falls: Subverted in "Headhunters", when Mabel asks Wax Shakespeare's head if he knows any limericks:
    Shakespeare: Um... There once was a dude from Kentucky...
    Mabel: Nope! [throws him in the fire]

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