Dictionary defined: limerick learning

Published 4:50 pm Thursday, August 9, 2018

Poetry is not one of my favorite kinds of writing. In fact, I tried my hardest to avoid poetry as much as I could while studying creative writing in college. Mostly that was because I was very awful at understanding it and even worse at writing it.

But, as always, there are exceptions to the rule. And my exception for poetry is the limerick.

Unlike what you’ll mostly find in poetry books today where the lines sprawling across the pages don’t rhyme and usually leave you scratching your head to decipher the deeper meaning afterwards, limericks are short and sweet and, best of all, good for a chuckle or two. They follow a standard AABBA rhyming scheme which makes them easier to recite.

A good example I always remember goes as follows: “There once was a man from Peru/who dreamed he was eating his shoe/He woke with a fright/in the middle of the night/and found that his dream had come true!”

I read an interesting article a while back from the Associated Press about the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form (OEDILF). The online dictionary is a fun project started by Chris Strolin all the way back in 2004. It began as Strolin’s joking suggestion that the dictionary could be improved by writing all the definitions as limericks.

So that’s just what he did.

Now, years later, he and his fellow contributors are almost at 100,000 limerick definitions all collected online at www.oedilf.com. He started with the beginning of the alphabet, and now they’ve expanded up through the G’s, the AP story noted. Strolin estimated at their current pace, they’ll be on track to finish defining the whole dictionary in limerick form by 2076. He likened the length of the project to architects who took decades to construct massive cathedrals in Europe.

All great projects require patience, right?

Since I too thought the idea sounded fun, I looked up the online dictionary to see what they had to offer. Some are silly, some are weird, and some aren’t really very helpful in learning a word’s definition but are still fun to read. Here are a few limericks I liked in particular:

Astroparticle physics (limerick #99889): “When discussing neutrino technology/or quasar emission cosmology/astroparticle physics/chock-full of specifics/will always confuse our neurology.”

Freeway (limerick #99888): “Motorway, autobahn, freeway/each one, without tolls: a no-fee way/Drivers soon understand/in whichever the land/such a highway’s, expressly, a ‘whee’ way!”

Brainstorm (limerick #18650): “A brainstorm will light up your mind/showing clear what was once ill-defined/Muddled thoughts and delusion/dim clouds of confusion/then FLASH! See the truth hid behind!”

Alarm (limerick #22144): “Old McDonald’s a guy with a farm/who thinks consonants cause only harm/He is safe, he supposes/with E’s, I’s, and O’ses/vowel movements will cause no alarm.”

Daylight saving (limerick #49373): “Twice a year I’d be ranting and raving/when I found all the clocks misbehaving/Then I picked up the knack/That’s ‘spring forward, fall back’/That’s the rule when we do daylight saving.”

Alliteration (limerick #7616): “Good meter and rhymes may be nice/to make poetry smooth and precise/But for sonnets to sing/add some zest, zip, and zing/alliteration’s a dandy device.”

These are all very silly, right? You can browse through more limericks yourself on the OEDILF website. And if you feel like trying your hand at poetry, they accept submissions for limerick definitions, even for ones which already have been defined.

I guess there are occasions when poetry can be quite useful after all!


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.