"Limerick stanza" 1896 image

John-Patrick email1 at FOLKLORE.MS
Thu Jan 15 16:59:09 UTC 2009

goranson at duke.edu wrote:
> John,
> Hi. I attached limerickstanza.pdf, or at least tried to. Did it convey
> OK? Do
> you have an opinion whether the US slang "come/bring to Limerick" is
> likely
> related to the 5-line stanzas getting called Limericks?
> best,
> Stephen

Thanks for the PDF.  I had hoped that you had found early an example of
nonsense verses being sung.  If you ever run across sung nonsense verses
pre-1899 a chorus, I would love to see the documentation.

As for you question, yes, if there was a song that "had come/bring to
Limerick" as the chorus, then it is quite likely that the verses picked
up the name from the chorus.  One needs to find documentation for his
chorus.  The description a limerick drinking song from Notes & Queries
(see below) is EXACTLY how the limerick song was used later.  When
singing the limerick song one was required to not repeat the same verse
and people took turns singing verses.  As Jonathan points out, there is
also a chorus in England that goes "Sing us another one do" which has a
similar mean to the "come up to Limerick".

Now what one needs to do is 1) find other evidence of nonsense verse
being sung with this chorus  2) find the variant meaning for "come up to
Limerick" in Ireland/England.  Without those two things, it is an ill
supported hypothesis.


John Patrick
 From Notes & Queries 10 Dec 1898:

    "limerick" (9th S. ii. 408).---A nonsense verse such as was written
    by Lear is wrongfully so called, though the editor of the Cantab
    applied it to a nonsense verse of Kipling's the other day. The
    "Limerick" proper is a far from blameless production, though some
    "Limericks" achieve an enormous circulation---verbally. It has been
    shown that the nonsense verse is older than Lear's; how much older I
    am not prepared to say, but certain it is that a song has existed in
    Ireland for a very considerable time, the construction of the verse
    of which is identical with that of Lear's. The refrain of it is as
    follows :---

        Will you come up, come up ?
        Will you come up to Limerick?
        Will you come up, come up ?
        Will you come up to Limerick ?

    The method of singing it was peculiar One member of the party
    started a verse and when he had concluded the whole assembly joined
    in the chorus. Then the next performer started a second verse, anc
    so on until each one had contributed averse repetitions were not
    allowed, and forfeits were extracted from those who could not fulfil
    the conditions. This meant that each one had to supply an original
    verse of his own. That some of these were highly decorous is quite
    possible, but that others were not is proved by the fact that the "
    Limerick " verse to-day bears quite a different significance from
    ordinary nonsense verse. Who applied this name to the indecent
    nonsense verse first is hard to say, but I fancy a scurrilous London
    weekly may have had to do with it. Whence these nonsense verses
    emanate or who are their authors there are no means of knowing ;
    perhaps the fathers of many of them are not anxious to avow the

    J. H. Murray.

> Quoting John-Patrick <email1 at folklore.ms>:
>> Stephen,
>> I am researching limerick songs and the history of bawdry.  I would
>> love a copy of the PDF and anything else you can dig up about the
>> early history of limericks (and their being sung).
>> Yours,
>> John Patrick
>> ~
>> My website: www.folklore.ms

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

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