The History of the Limerick

(With thanks to Wikipedia)

Pay attention class!

The origin of the actual name limerick for this type of poem is obscure. Its use was first documented in the UK in 1898 (New English Dictionary) and in the USA in 1902. It is generally taken to be a reference to the County of Limerick in Ireland, particularly the Maigue Poets, and may derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse parlour game that traditionally included a refrain that ended "Come all the way up to Limerick?"

The name ‘Limerick’ is predated by the work of Edward Lear who published his first Book of Nonsense in 1845 and a later work (1872) on the same theme. Lear wrote 212 limericks, mostly nonsense verse. It was customary at the time for limericks to accompany an absurd illustration of the same subject, and for the final line of the limerick to be a kind of conclusion, usually a variant of the first line ending in the same word.

The following is an example of one of Edward Lear's limericks.

There was a Young Person of Smyrna
Whose grandmother threatened to burn her;
But she seized on the cat, and said 'Granny, burn that!
You incongruous old woman of Smyrna!'

(Lear's limericks were often typeset in three or four lines, according to the space available under the accompanying picture.)

An interesting, and maybe somewhat dated aspect of Lear’s limericks is his tendency to use the same word at the end of the first and last lines, most often a place name.

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