Limericks in the USA

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Fri Nov 6 13:45:17 UTC 2009

More on my hypothesis (in the archive) that the Irish name "Limerick" may have
been first applied to an already-existing English verse form first in the
United States.

1) I have just read "The First Use of the Word 'Limerick' in America" by Dr. Bob
Tuvey in The Pentatette (a post-March 2009 issue) courtesy of the editor Doug
Harris (to whom thanks). The article does not mention some of the US potential
allusions to "Limericks" I've posted, and says "ignoring the ambiguous Police
Gazette reference of 1880...", but it includes an interesting passage from The
Londoners by Robert Smythe Hichens in 1898 page 282 [also available at Google

"But come, give us a Limerick. Cheer us up now! give us agood Limerick. You must
know thousands."
"I assure you I do not." I have never been in Ireland."
The Duke burst out into a mirthless laugh.
"Well, upon my--What's Ireland got to do with it?"
"Everything, I should suppose," returned Mr. Rodney, trembling with nervous

Later, Tuvey comments,"This raises an interesting question: do we count the use
of a word in imported literature as a use of the word in America?"

Another possibility is that the word Limerick, in this sense, was not imported
into America.

The 1880 and 1881 uses of "Limerick rhymes" in US publications is so far not
matched in the UK until 1896, and then by a world-traveller Scot.

2. Doug Harris also kindly sent along a copy of a NY Times article that may
allude to the Limerick's reputation.

Is the Limerick Women's Benevolent and Social Association That Gave a Ball
Friday Night That Figured in Print -- Might as Well Have Called Us Lady
Limekilns, Says an Indignant Member -- "No Whoopin.', High-Kickin' Hussies."
New York Times (1857-Current file). Jan 21, 1894. p. 8 (1 page) [col. 1]

"What's in a name? Mrs. M. E. Wheeler, President of the Limerick Women's
benevolent and Social Association, thinks there's a great deal. furthermore,
she is of the opinion that, unlike the port's rose, the organization of which
she is the head has a far more savory reputation under its own name, if it
inconveniently lengthy, than under the terse and suggestive characteristics of
the "Lady Limericks.'...."

Here we have an 1894 apparent allusion to suggestive, indelicate Limerick
poems--in the US.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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