Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Limericks

Posted by Neal on March 17, 2018

Limericks have been on my mind fhttps://literalminded.wordpress.com/?p=6794&preview=trueor the last couple of months. It started when I discovered a Twitter account called @Limericking, which puts out a constant stream of limericks based on the news, usually better than the ones featured each week on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. Here’s the limerick that showed up on my timeline in January:

So clever, and such a good illustration of the cot/caught merger, which I just wrote about in a piece I just did for Grammar Girl on vowel mergers. For me, cause and flaws both have the mid back round vowel /ɔ/, but Oz has the low back unround vowel /ɑ/. It could just be that the writer of this limerick was settling for an imperfect rhyme, but I see that @Limericking is based in Canada, one of the places where the merger is widespread, so it’s probably a perfect rhyme for them.

Then, at the end of the month, Merriam-Webster started tweeting out limericks about English usage. I particularly liked this one:

At the beginning of March, of course, it was National Grammar Day once again, with its annual limerick contest. This was the winner, and deservedly so:

I didn’t write a grammar limerick, but after I read the limericks from Limericking and Merriam-Webster, I decided to take another crack at writing a panphonic poem, within the constraints of five short lines. The first time I tried putting all the sounds of English into a single poem, I tried to work in not only all the sounds that English speakers perceive as separate sounds (in other words, all the phonemes), but also all the variant pronunciations of each phoneme (i.e. all the allophones). For example, I didn’t want to put in just the vowel [i] as in she, but also the nasalized vowel [ĩ] as in scheme. Ultimately, I didn’t succeed, so I set my sights a bit lower this time. Here’s what I ended up with:

In normal spelling, it’s

Hear in this short limerick’s strains
Every sound which my language contains.
Could it be an illusion?
Panphonic profusion?
Something linguists enjoy as a game?

I would rather have said panphonemic profusion because it’s more specific, and because the meter works better, but panphonic was the only word I had with the vowel /ɑ/. And I’d prefer sound that to sound which, but I needed a /tʃ/. Maybe I’ll try again someday, without such a meta topic.

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One Response to “Limericks”

  1. To the conscious mind language is mysterious.
    Its systematic training of mind makes them delirious.
    It’s crystal clear in dreams,
    as to what linguistic meaning means.
    Yet, once again conscious the return to being hilarious.

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