I wrote these for the Omnificent English Dictionary in English Form, a magnificent, ambitious, and slightly insane attempt to write a limerick for every word in the English language, one letter group at a time. You can see my additions and revisions there, but I like to keep them here as well; the menu below leads to permanent pages for each letter group. You can also see some co-written pieces, an area especially aimed at OEDILFers, and a page of limerick biographies of famous artists.
His paintings you’d never call static,
But the movement of some was dramatic,
His Liberty Leading
The People proceeding
From palace to Delacroix’s attic.
Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) was a leading French Romantic painter whose emphasis on colour and movement later influenced the Impressionists. The French government bought Liberty Leading the People (1830) to hang in the palace throne room as a reminder to Louis Philippe I that he owed his power to the Revolution. It ended up in the palace gallery instead, until it was deemed too inflammatory and removed. After the Paris Uprising of 1832 the painting was returned to the artist, who sent it to his aunt for safekeeping (so, strictly speaking, it was her attic). It was exhibited again briefly in 1848 and 1855, before ending up at the Louvre in 1874, where it hangs today.
There was once a poetical man
Whose limerick lines didn’t scan.
I’ll offer a sample:
He wrote, for example,
“The Empire of the Rising Sun was Japan.”
An homage to that infamous young man from Japan who would “always try to cram as many words into the last line as I possibly can”.
I feel a profound enervation
Of body and mind... dissipation
Of energy... tiredness...
That follows the wiredness
Whenever I’m led to temptation.
Magnolia felt such revulsion
At regular household emulsion
That viewing beige paint
Made her shudder and faint,
And occasionally have a convulsion.
Perhaps it was because she shared her name with the UK’s most popular colour of emulsion, a water-based matt paint used on interior walls.
Emojis are perfect for chat.
Here’s a 🐼 , a 🐶 and a 😺,
Some 🌹🌹🌹, a 🌵...
You’d 👍 some, to practice?
Don’t 😨—just copy all that.
Emojis are perfect for chat.
Here’s a [panda], a [dog] and a [cat],
Some [rose]s, a [cactus]...
You’d like [=thumbs up sign] some, to practice?
Don’t worry [=fearful face]—just copy all that.
Feel free to quiz sleepy ol’ me on
Eoan: no typo for aeon,
This word about dawn
Sounds a lot like a yawn.
(Dammit, missed—now the loo seat has pee on.)
This obscure word is pronounced ee-OH-un.
“On our empire, the sun never sets,,”
Said Victorian Britain. But let’s
Compare past ones, like Rome:
In the end, you head home—
Though a colony never forgets.
“Your email attachment was broken,”
Wrote my manager. “Surely you’re jokin’,”
I replied. “It’s a Word doc.
Not working? Absurd, doc.”
“Enough!” he mailed. “Outlook has spoken.”
“The Eastern Europeans are coming!”
Scream the tabloids. “These migrants are thumbing
Their nose at our rules,
And will fill up our schools!”
Goes the claim. Or they’ll help with the plumbing.
British critics of migration from Eastern European countries seem to argue that these EU citizens will somehow bleed dry the UK’s welfare system and take all our jobs, causing the collapse of the NHS with their unhealthy foreign lifestyles while filling up primary schools with their vigorous British-born children, who will end up marrying our children and forcing us to eat cabbage at their weddings and misspell the names of our in-laws on Christmas cards, so there.
Mongolia, China, Japan,
Korea (both North ’n’ South), an’
Some of Russia, Taiwan:
If I could, I’d go on,
But that’s all of East Asia, my man.
Can I not get it through your thick skull?
You’re someone I don’t want to lull
Into thinking I like you—
Does it not ever strike you
You’re truly, earth-shatteringly dull?
Not you, of course.
We have show kitchens—when we saw Burt, he
Said, “Angel, yer kitchen’s sure purty”—
But here in Manila,
Our staff use the griller
In kitchens we frankly call dirty.
In Philippine English, a dirty kitchen is for everyday cooking by household staff, unlike those purely for show or special use by the owner. Angel is a popular unisex Filipino name.
My cabbage-like sister loves soup,
Eating bowl after bowl of dull goop.
Its cabbage-like smell
Leaves me feeling unwell.
Now she’s serving up me a bowl. Poop.
He’d be mayor, would he, eh? I think not!
Does this Goose have the votes? Does he, what!
This cabbage-eating son
Of a cucumber! None
Should give journeyman tailors that spot.
This derogatory term for someone from a class or region stereotypically associated with eating cabbages dates back centuries. In Act II of Samuel Foote’s 1764 play The Mayor of Garratt, one character responds to a public reading of a letter from the candidate Timothy Goose—“a journeyman tailor, from Putney”—with: “A journeyman tailor! A rascal, has he the impudence to transpire to be mayor? D’ye consider, neighbours, the weight of this office? Why, it is a burthen for the back of a porter; and can you think that this cross-legged cabbage-eating son of a cucumber, this whey-faced ninny, who is but the ninth part of a man, has strength to support it?”
“Earl Grey?” asked my Mum, “Cup of tea?”
As she lofted the pot towards me.
This bergamot mixture
Was a permanent fixture
In our afternoon tea-drinking, see.
If your lab has an under-suppliance
Of scientists, citizen science
Can provide you with many
More colleagues than any
Recruiter: a public alliance.
Citizen science is scientific work undertaken by members of the public, usually in collaboration with professionals: for example, reporting wildlife sightings, measuring rainfall, or helping analyse large astronomical or genetic datasets as part of an open, distributed effort online.
The East India Company’s Spice Trade:
A Colonial British Device? Trade
With India started
Benignly, but parted
Thereafter from being a nice trade...
The opening words of a much longer article on the storied East India Company, 1600–1874. Its first century as an English enterprise was primarily one of trade with the Mughal Empire rather than conquest, but in the 18th century it became more and more an arm of Empire, until it was nationalised after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and finally dissolved in 1874.
In a limerick, femininization
Causes anapest-busting frustration.
It’d be so much neater
To express “making sweeter
Or softer” as feminization.
The good news is that you can use the shorter term, as it’s now preferred. The bad news is that either has pretty sexist overtones.
This man-about-town’s finest features
Were his femorals, viz., knee-length breeches
Much-worn in past days.
Yes, his Renaissance ways
Made him one of L.A.’s oddest creatures.
A garbo, or garbage collector,
Is a rubbish-bin/dumpster inspector
Down under. All trash
He’ll despatch in a flash—
He’s a bit of a litter detector.
A dustman, or refuse collector,
Is a dustbin and rubbish inspector
In old movies the characters say,
“Oh, I’m ever so happy and gay!”
But whenever you hear
That use now it sounds queer,
As it means “out and proud” folk today.
As for queer, its unfortunate use
By the cruel as a term of abuse
Has been turned on its head
By its targets; instead,
It’s a call to resist, not a noose.
I wanted to email my teacher,
But had no computer to reach ’er.
Though it may not be smart
By dumb luck my old phone has this feature.
In the late 1970s, feature phone meant a phone enhanced with computer technology. By 1999 it meant a cutting-edge mobile with features such as Internet access and music playback. Now such phones are the cheaper, old-fashioned models used by those who can’t afford or don’t want a smartphone—hence, dumbphones.
We are French revolutionaries! We’re
Equal citizens now. If you care
About liberty, then
Is the way we’ll address you, mon cher.
These French terms for male and female citizens have made their way into English, chiefly via accounts of life in historical and contemporary France. During the Revolution they were used as forms of address.
Of the works by David, the, by far,
Most well-known is La Mort de Marat,
Unless we go solely on
His tableaux of Napoleon:
In Republic and Empire, a star.
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) was the preeminent painter of the French Revolution, First Republic and First Empire. It’s a toss-up whether his best-known work is The Death of Marat (1793), Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801), or one of his other portraits of Napoleon, all done in his distinctive neoclassical style.
“This caricature,” said the king,
“As Gargantua still has a sting.
That Honoré Daumier
Really did show me, eh?
Shame he’s in prison, poor thing.”
France’s preeminent caricaturist of the nineteenth century, Daumier (1808–1879), was also an accomplished printmaker, sculptor and painter. Depicting Louis-Philippe I as Rabelais’s giant in an 1831 lithograph got him locked up for six months.
Lucas Cranach the Elder provided
Our portraits of Luther. He sided
With Protestant views
In his search for a muse
Free from papal ideas he derided.
Lucas Cranach the Elder (born Lucas Maler, c. 1472–1553), court painter to the Electors of Saxony, was a contemporary and friend of Martin Luther, and painted the portraits of many Protestant figures of the time. Later in his life he explored their ideas in his religious paintings, and produced propaganda prints mocking Catholic clergy and the Pope. His son, Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586), assumed control over his workshop after his death and painted in a similar style, but is not considered as accomplished.
I give you permission. Feel free.
Go ahead. You can do it. You see,
I allow it. That’s right:
You are granted this sight
Of a glimpse of all-powerful Me.
“Your book on Welsh land use has lots
Of mistakes. Look, ‘er W’—what’s...”
“Erm, an erw is not
An, um, error. It’s what
The, er, Welshry called acres or plots.”
Just as Welshry is an old term for the Welsh people, an erw (EH-roo) is an old Welsh land measurement (and later, more generally, a term for an allocated portion of land). The area of an erw varied at different times and in different places.
From an astronaut’s prospect in space,
The mountains and lakes take their place
Next to deserts and ice
In a view beyond price:
An earthscape, our world’s noble face.
The eyes of its freshers are gleaming,
The faces of graduates, beaming,
As the life of each don
Here in Oxford goes on:
This city inspires much dreaming.
An épicerie’s really a deli,
But French-er; the cheeses are smelly,
The confit is ducky,
And those who are lucky
Can buy escargots for their belly.
As the dawn breaks, and daylight draws near,
Watch the bloke with the fangs disappear.
To a vampire, the sun
Is a heap of no fun.
Eosophobia: Dracula’s fear.
The case neoliberals have made
About why to engage in free trade
Has held sway for some years;
Old protectionist fears
Are outmoded, although not allayed.
“Yer face fungus, matey, looks weird,”
Cried the yobs to the hipster. He feared
That a toadstool had sprouted
From his nose, till they shouted,
“Why the hell doncha shave off yer beard?”
U.S. tourists are often engrossed
By the words others use for French toast.
Many Britons, instead,
Call the stuff eggy bread—
Oui, monsieur, pain perdu—maybe most.
The Romans knew it as pan dulcis, and the French themselves called it pain a la Romaine before calling it pain perdu, or “lost bread”. Americans named it after the immigrants who popularised it there, while the English stuck with more prosaic descriptors... when they weren’t calling it gypsy toast or poor knights of Windsor.
I’m a fact-checker, checking the truth
Of that stuff we call “news”. I’m a sleuth
Who gives journos the terrors
By finding their errors,
Driving writers en masse to vermouth.
As her parent, I know that I oughta
Respect what life’s lessons have taught her,
And how much she’s grown,
But for decades I’ve known
That she’ll always be my baby daughter.