Limerick, Copperheads, nonsense, etc.

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 25 17:54:05 UTC 2009

Stephen, if by "Limerick stanza" you mean the formal stanza that defines the
modern limerick, I'd say there is no reason at all to assume an Irish
origin.  I've seen at least one ex. of  the five-line AABBA stanza from 18th
C. England. (Of course,  it wasn't identified as a "limerick," or as
anything in particular.)


On Sun, Jan 25, 2009 at 10:02 AM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      Limerick, Copperheads, nonsense, etc.
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The attestations of "come to Limerick" during the US Civil War, meaning
> surrender and the like, are predominantly, if not exclusively, from the
> Northern side.
> One of the earliest books, if not the earliest book, of 5-line nonsense
> rhymes
> to be published in the US (in 1863, reprinted in 1864ff) is Ye Book of
> Copperheads (Philadelphia: Frederick Leypoldt, 1863 [available on Sabin
> Americana]), which also supports the Northern cause, against Copperheads.
> The
> name Limerick does not appear in this book.
> Following the US Civil War, with its references to the Irish Civil War
> conclusion in 1691, some uses of "come to Limerick" are used in jocular or
> nonsense settings. E.g. :
> 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
> 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
> 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
> The 1898 Notes & Queries entries by M.H. and J. H. Murray have been
> questioned.
> Belknap even entertained the possibility that the contributions were a
> "put-on"
> to get publicity for the Cantab periodical, but then he dropped the
> proposal.
> Belknap and Baring-Gould and Liberman all apparently agree that J. H.
> Murray is
> not J. A. H. Murray. J. H. Murray elsewhere in N.& Q. had
> non-lexicographical
> contributions and gave 100, Lothian Road, Edinburgh as his address.
> I sensed an internal contradiction, or at least a tension in J. H. Murray's
> 1898
> text, even before reading Belknap, who goes further with doubts than I
> think
> necessary, though the chorus is so far unattested (Jonathan Lighter brought
> this up in the archives previously). J. H. Murray claims there was a
> singing
> game with these verses and a chorus inviting to come to Limerick, but then
> he
> somehow fancies that the name Limerick might have been given to the verses
> by a
> "scurrilous London weekly." My tentative guess is that he got the "come to
> Limerick" link with the verses right, but may have less reliable testimony
> in
> some other aspects of his story. Besides the Irish name Limerick, there is
> little reason now to think Limerick stanzas were an Irish invention. The
> name
> may have gone from Ireland to the US to the UK.
> Stephen Goranson
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