New Literary History

by Scott McLemee on December 19, 2006

A casual reference to limerick-writing here last week had the effect of unleashing hitherto unexpected powers of versification among some of Crooked Timber’s readership. Seriously, I had no idea.

At the risk of lowering the tone of this august blog, I feel it may be time to record the one limerick I ever previously had a chance to witness being composed. This took place at Cornell University in July 1980, during the Telluride Association Summer Program. The writing was a team effort. I was not really involved (having just that week paired off with my first-ever girlfriend, the kind of thing that tends to dominate one’s attention, particularly at the age of 17) but do recall walking past the blackboard at various points throughout the evening as the limerick was being worked out, line by line.

The result seemed to me impressive at the time, and in fact it still does. The limerick does not appear online anywhere. It probably never got much circulation. To the best of my recollection, here is the final draft:

An athletic proctologist, Nolan
Wowwed ’em at Saturday night bowlin’.
He’d swallow the ball
handbag and all
And shoot perfect strikes out his colon.

This is the equal of anything ever collected by the estimable Gershon Legman. (The first line renders it a candidate for canonical status.) My duty to posterity has now been met.



ajl 12.19.06 at 6:22 pm

The meter would be improved by a change to “Friday night bowlin’.” Otherwise, quite good.


Henry (not the famous one) 12.19.06 at 9:09 pm

As Freud would have said about Mr. Legman, surname is destiny.


a grad student 12.19.06 at 9:20 pm

Thank you for reminding me how incredibly nerdy my own TASP experience was. Lovely people, all. But…not uniformly socially equipped, let’s say.


Minipundit 12.19.06 at 10:02 pm

It’s just perfect that I was taking a break from writing my TASP application essays to check CT when I found this post.


john bragg 12.19.06 at 10:44 pm

Everything a student needs to know about the Civil War to pass Texas’ Exit Level test:

In Eighteen Sixty One
The Civil War begun
North against South
Free against Slave
‘Til Robert E. Lee said “You won.”

Add a bit of logical reasoning, and you have it covered.


Matt Kuzma 12.20.06 at 2:55 am

Being from a scientific background, I have to share my (wholly off-topic) favorite limerick ever. Given the nature of topics discussed on CT, I wonder how many people will actually appreciate it. No matter.

A friend in liquor production
Built a still of curious construction
The alcohol boils
Through old magnet coils
He dubbed it proof by induction


Matt 12.20.06 at 6:12 am

Can I post another favourite from my math studying days:

If E’s a complete metric space
That’s non-empty, then it is the case
That if f’s a contraction
Then under its action
Just one point remains in its place


Doug 12.20.06 at 6:13 am

Nor is it limited to English (though I have forgotten where I found this):

Szczesliwa ksiezniczka w Nairobi,
lubi kiedy maz jej to robi.
Nie konczy w polowie,
bo konskie ma zdrowie –
on jej to – po prostu – “naj” robi!


theophylact 12.20.06 at 10:19 am

There was a young fencer named Fisk
With swordwork amazingly brisk.
So fast was his action,
The Fitzgerald Contraction
Reduced his rapier to a disk.


Adam Roberts 12.20.06 at 11:38 am

It may be too late to cash in with a Christmas stocking-filling title, The Crooked Timber Little Book of Political, Philosophical and Scientific Limerics.


Jake 12.21.06 at 3:34 am


There was a young lady named Bright
Who traveled much faster than light
She set out one day,
In her relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

Anyone know where I can find a copy of Fantasia Mathematica?


Jake 12.21.06 at 3:38 am

Never mind, it’s back in print in paperback.


bad Jim 12.21.06 at 3:45 am

That polymath Gauss had the nerve
to sum us all up in a curve
statistics made clear
geometry queer
and that’s just a part of his oeuvre.

Bad enough?


Kenny Easwaran 12.21.06 at 4:15 am

Wow – I’ve never heard that word pronounced in a way to make that rhyme. But I’ve heard it pronounced lots of different way, and don’t know how I would go about pronouncing it (in English).


Steve LaBonne 12.21.06 at 10:14 am

In American (not sure about English), “hors d’oeuvres” means “appetizers” and is pronounced “ore derves”.


ben wolfson 12.21.06 at 5:17 pm

9 is better known with a last line concerning how “his dong was reduced to a disk”.


Matt 12.22.06 at 5:29 am

One more, while we’re in the realm of physics:

Steve Weinberg returning from Texas
Brings dimensions galore to perplex us
But the others are all
Wrapped up in a ball
So tiny it never affects us

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