"come to Limerick" antedate and Limerick (verse) etymology suggestion

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Jan 11 15:27:50 UTC 2009

Limerick, the Irish place name, and "come to Limerick" in 19th-century US slang,
and the naming--circa 1896?--of the 5-line nonsense verse as Limerick may all be

HDAS gives three quotes with "come to Limerick." HDAS: "fr. Limerick, town and
county in Ireland; the allusion is obscure; perh. cf. "Will You Come Down to
Limerick" title of a slip jig in F. O'Neill The Dance Music of Ireland
(1907)...In phrase come to Limerick (of a person) to behave properly; come to
the point; make sense."

The music reference is to sheet music without song words. Nonetheless we recall
the (unsubstantiated?) claims made in the 20th-century of 19th-centuries parties
with sung 5-line nonsense verses and chorus of "Will you come up to Limerick" or
similar words.

The HDAS definitions of "come to Limerick" work, but, based on more uses,
the phrase may have also meant "come to a conclusion" [perhaps like "do a
Limerick," "make like Limerick"] or, originally, "settle" or "surrender."
Evidently, this phrase arose (or at least became widespread) in the US Civil
War and may be a reference to the earlier Civil War in Ireland which was
concluded in 1691 at Limerick. The meaning eventually transfered from civil war
to domestic and political disputes and absurd stories, perhaps including verbal
contests and nonsense verses.

1862 Feb 17 [in Western Sun March 1] Corporal Thomas B. Thompson [of
Indiana]...discovered a sesesh hid under a bush pile lying in a stream of
water, and nearly frozen--made him "come to Limerick" and show where his gun
was concealed.
Indiana Magazine of History 1934 v30 n3 p284

1864 Jan 8 The Badax Tigers: From Shiloh to the Surrender with the 18th
Wisconsin Page 221-2  Thomas P. Nanzig  2002
Dear Wife
If Tom Stevenson had to borrow money of me to clear him from the draft, he would
be pretty sure to go to war for instead of loaning him money to keep him out I
would give 25 dollars to force him into the army for he is one of the few that
I would like to see "come to Limerick."

1864 HDAS ..."Ho, Johnny, come to limerick."

1864 Quite Ready to Be Sent Somewhere: The Civil War Letters of Aldace Freeman
Walker [of Vermont]- Page 196 ed. Thomas LeDoux 2002
We are getting things to running first rate now; are provided with bunks all
around, and the new men are learning to "come to Limerick." ...

1866 Iowa [decide to resign, after hesitating, come to the courthouse at the
stated time and] come to Limerick
Daily Iowa State Register Des Moines 6-9 v124 p2

1872 he will be obliged to come to Limerick in obedience
Daily Iowa State Register Des Moines 8-23

1872 I tole her the time had come to stop foolishness, an' she mus' come to
Limerick an' be mine
Macon GA Weekly Telegraph 8-2   322

1874 Feb 4 NYT [NY Tribune claimed "startling documents" but are they forged?]
Cincinnati Enquirer: "if...in a less respectable newspaper, we would certainly
think that it meant "Come to Limerick.'"

1877 HDAS Don't go about it in a sneaking [or Jesuitical] way but "come to
Limerick" at once with the question.

1887 HDAS {Civil War fiction] "I'll bring him to Limerick"...

1890 Omaha Daily Bee  [Neb.]
May 30, 1890, Page 4, Image 4
feels that he owns the man or has a double-action mortgage on his ward alderman
which he intends to foreclose at the next city election unless the alderman
comes to Limerick or passes around the "turkey."

1893 Come to Limerick Mr. Green!
The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City [Utah) 1870-1909
March 08, 1893, Page 4, Image 4 [LOC newspapers; political humor col.]

!896 A. Beardsley letters

1896 Barry Popik ADS-L Judy, or the London serio-comic journal, [cf. Murray's
guess on a London weekly] June 24, p615 col. 1 "Guest of the Hour: The G. O.
M." "Limerick stanzas"

1896 he's been keeping company with her for goin' on three years, an' I guess at
last she made up her mind to bring him to Limerick [or throw him out the window]
Philadelphia Inquirer 9-27 v135 no 89 p32

  Bristol Times And Mirror  Tuesday, November 09, 1897 Bristol,
Gloucestershire... Pg. 7, col. 8:
   Cambridge has a weakness for Limericks.  The following, emanating from
"The Granta," is going the round of the College rooms with attendant applause:--
      There once was a Marquis of Magdalene,...

1898 OED: Cantab 6 Oct., Contents, Illustrated Limericks

1898 OED: Notes & Queries exchange on Limerick etymology

1900 The Evening Times (Washington, D.C)
September 18, 1900, Page 4, Image 4
[Emery alleges that Boyle has violated the bond, and now he is going to make
him] come to Limerick [LOC]

1907 [a couple locked up in a room] If after a month they had not come to
Limerick they got the writ [of divorce]
Lexington KY Herald 7-28 {and reprints]

Stephen Goranson
"Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene"

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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