Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins


“Your project is doomed, a dead duck,”
He informed me. “You’re flat out of luck.
It’s had it. Kaput.
It’s been crushed underfoot.
And it’s your fault, you featherbrain.” “Cluck.”

My brother says, “Pass the dead horse.”
He’s a cowboy? A cop in the force?
Has a map to some treasure?
A ruddier pleasure:
It’s ketchup—as Aussies say, sauce.

Australian tomato sauce, which is a bit runnier than tomato ketchup elsewhere, is the dominant condiment of the land. Meat pie? Sauce. Hot dog? Sauce. Hot chips? Sauce. Dagwood dog? Sauce. Chiko roll? Sauce. Pastie? Sauce. Burger? Beetroot, a fried egg and sauce. Ice cream? Sauce... no, not really, but my sauce-obsessed brother did once try it for a laugh. Even he gave that the thumbs down.

“This law’s out of date; we had better
Abolish it.” “Don’t do it yet, or
We’ll miss a great chance
To make citizens dance.”
“You would bring back to life a dead letter?”

The UK is famously rife with obsolete laws which are unenforceable or never enforced, yet which remain on the books. The Madhouses Act 1774 restricts property owners to one lunatic per residence without a licence. The Uniforms Act 1894 makes it illegal to impersonate a soldier, so keep your cosplay and fancy dress to yourself. The Vagrancy Act 1824 makes it illegal to ask someone for small change, even if it’s a friend helping you pay for parking—oh, and it also makes it illegal to be homeless.

Dead letters aren’t only old. The Postal Services Act 2000 makes it illegal to delay the mail by chatting to postal workers for too long, while section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986 prohibits looking guilty while holding a salmon.

“Hey, Deadpool—what gives? You ain’t dead!”
“That’s right, bud, I’m not. [Turns his head:]
Yes, folks, I’m unkillable.
My blood is still spillable,
But death? I get better instead.”

Deadpool started out as a Marvel Comics supervillain in 1990 but subsequently became more of an antihero. A disfigured Canadian mercenary with superhuman healing abilities, Deadpool has died many times but always regenerates. In the comics and in the X-Men film series and his own 2016 movie, he likes to break the fourth wall.

As I’m leaving the flat, “Don’t forget,”
Says me mate, “that you’re placin’ a bet
For me. Frankenstein’s Son
At a hundred to one.”
“You reckon he’ll win it?” “Dead set.”

In Australia, dead set, which started out as racing slang for a bet being a dead certainty, has come to be used more generally to mean correct, spot on, or for sure.

Boris Johnson has cobbled a deal
Together, so Leavers can feel
He gave it his best.
The EU aren’t impressed.
Time for Britain’s MPs to get real.

Deal in 2019 Britain signifies a Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, a precursor to a transition period of trade negotiations between post-Brexit Britain and the EU. Theresa May failed three times in early 2019 to convince Parliament to pass the agreement that her minority government had negotiated with the EU. Now, as the notification period under Article 50 counts down to Britain’s exit on 31 October 2019, her successor Boris Johnson is attempting to conclude his own agreement by 19 October 2019, after which the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (or “Benn Act”) would compel him to seek an extension of the negotiation period. The proposals he has produced on 2 October 2019 seem doomed, if not designed, to fail, as they backtrack on previous UK commitments and breach various EU red lines. Johnson’s insistence that he will not request an extension of Article 50, despite the Benn Act, means that MPs must now consider alternative ways to avoid a “no deal” Brexit, such as installing a government of national unity to request an extension of Article 50 or revoking it altogether.

A little green man, here from Mars,
Wants a deal on a ship to the stars.
The salesman says, “Mate,
I regret to relate
That our dealership’s only for cars.”

Strictly speaking, a dealership is any kind of authorized trading establishment, but nowadays it connotes a car dealership.

You’ve taken your ultimate breath
In the clutches of Cawdor’s Macbeth.
Is a dagger the cause
Of the infinite pause
That now draws from this instant of death?

No matter with what care we tend
To our bodies and minds, in the end
We shall all become dust.
Cruel world, so unjust!
Callous Fate is a death-bringer, friend.

The evil Lord Chancellor laughed,
“Thou consumest a death-bringing draught!
Now thy kingdom is mine!
Bwa-ha-haaa!” “Wait, I’m fine...
I’m okay!” spake the King, having barfed.

You say that was not what you meant,
Roland Barthes? But an author’s intent
Doesn’t matter, you said:
What’s important’s what’s read.
We’ve all left you for dead, man—you’re spent.

“The Death of the Author”, a 1967 essay by the French literary critic Roland Barthes (1915–1980), outlined the theory that the meaning of a text lies in a reader’s interpretation rather than its author’s intention. But who cares what he reckoned.

“Wearing nothing at all makes you nude,
And to do so in public is rude.
Claiming neither is true
Is the wrong thing to do!”
I can’t stand his declarative mood.

In grammar, the declarative mood indicates without any qualification that a statement is true. In some linguistic models, it is directly equivalent to the indicative mood; in others, it is one type of it.

As I coughed, his expression turned weighty.
“Your lungs are a basket case, matey.
To best decongest them,
I suggest that you rest them.
Stop breathing and count up to eighty.”

Pretty girls, whose enchanting “come hither”
Enticements send boys yon and thither,
Find none of that lasts.
Those who charmed in their pasts,
In decrepitude, find that they wither.

Our ambassador Voyagers race
To new places beyond Sol’s embrace,
Heading into the zone
That is commonly known
By us Earthlings back home as deep space.

Dear Fern,
You’re enchanting, I hear,
To those ruminant nibblers, the deer.
Your evergreen fronds
Will, like magical wands,
Cause severe hunger pangs to appear.

The evergreen deer fern, Blechnum spicant, is native to Eurasia and western North America, where it is often cultivated for deer.

When you hear it, you now bring to mind
The main senses and meanings behind
All its letters and sounds.
Understanding abounds!
This defined word is therefore defined.

Nazis spoke of “degenerate art”—
Made by Jews and left-wingers, to start,
But by others as well.
In a last show-and-tell,
They displayed it to tear it apart.

The Nazis embraced the nineteenth-century concept of cultural degeneracy (Entartung), whose proponent Max Nordau—ironically, a Zionist—included modern art among his targets, claiming that Impressionism was the sign of a diseased visual cortex. They particularly hated German Expressionism, but all of Weimar Germany’s art and culture was anathema to them; on coming to power they began purging galleries of modern art, as well as burning books and banning “degenerate music” such as jazz. The purge culminated in the 1937 touring exhibition of Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), in which works were deliberately badly hung and accompanied by mocking text. Afterwards, the Nazis auctioned off the more valuable items—keeping the odd Van Gogh or Cézanne for themselves—and then burned the rest, destroying four thousand supposedly worthless pieces in 1939. World War II brought further opportunities for vandalism: occupying Nazis threw “degenerate” work by Picasso, Dalí, Ernst, Klee, Léger and Miró onto a bonfire in Paris in July 1942.

Don’t wrinkle your nose in disgust
At the sight of your pudding’s burnt crust.
If Grandmother made it,
You’ll never evade it.
Degust it with gusto—you must.

You’re skipping dessert? What a waste!
Oh, my dears, just the teensiest taste!
A small degustation
Beats self-deprivation—
These samples should bring round the chaste.

Delish (slang) is short for delicious,
A word that is surely auspicious
For poets, as fish
Most will rhyme with delish,
Lest they wish to be doing the dishes.

Oh, give me the confidence, please,
To bring it in public with ease:
Be delulu, like Tube Girl.
Delusional noob? Girl,
No loser makes TikToks like these.

The Gen Z slang term delulu, first used by K-Pop followers to disparage obsessive fans who thought they had a chance of marrying their favourite Korean popstars, has evolved to imply admirable and boundless confidence—such as that displayed by Tube Girl, whose clips of herself dancing on the London Underground went viral on the video-sharing app TikTok in 2023.

In ye olden days, buying a goat
Might have cost you four pennies—a groat—
While a demigroat—half—
Might have bought you a calf,
If you got an exceptional quote.

It would have to have been. In fourteenth-century England, sheep (and presumably goats) cost between 4d. and 1s. 4d., but cattle cost upwards of six shillings. At various stages in history, the groat was valued from 4d. to 8d. to a shilling, with a half-groat or demigroat being worth from tuppence to fourpence to sixpence accordingly.

“A hung parliament? Surely you’re jokin’!”
Yes, the voters of Britain have spoken,
And they all disagree.
Sounds normal to me—
Who says our democracy’s broken?

In memory of the 2010 UK General Election.

In Beijing, the Democracy Wall
Brought the city to life again; all
Of its people could read
About every misdeed
Of their rulers, or call for their fall.

In China, big-character posters or dazibao have been a means of protest, propaganda, and popular communication since imperial times. During the ascent to power of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, dazibao began appearing on a 200-metre stretch of city wall near the Xidan market, initially with his approval. At first their criticisms focused on the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four, but when emboldened poster-writers turned on the late Mao Zedong and Deng himself, posting on the Democracy Wall was prohibited.

Mighty Lucifer, let me be your
Demonographer: I will ensure
That your evils are written
(In blood. Of a kitten.)
And nailed to the nearest church door.

Not a genuine request. Please don’t smite me.

To reject all the evidence strains
All credulity; still, some take pains
To discount what we know
(“How’s it warming? There’s snow!”)
About climate. Denialism reigns.

In the frosty Siberian ground,
A Denisovan pinky was found.
Its genes have revealed
The truth it concealed:
Descendants, still roaming around.

The 2008 discovery of a fingertip bone has redrawn our family tree. The ancestors of Denisovans and Neanderthals separated from modern humans up to 700,000 years ago, but when the groups met again during later migrations they appear to have interbred. Papuans carry about 3% Denisovan DNA.

Cosy Denmark, of Legoland fame,
Enjoys candlelight’s flickering flame.
Bigger countries may snigger,
But ones this mini figure
That hygge’s the name of the game.

What Denmark lacks in mountains and land area it nowadays makes up for in hygge (HYEUH-guh), loosely translated as “cosiness”, which entails various aspects of the enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures of family, hearth and home. This middle-class concept, first recorded in the 18th century, now features heavily in Danish self-definition and lifestyle. One consequence is that the country consumes more candles per head than any other in the EU.

When the Earth is completely depleted,
Its atmosphere too overheated,
Each forest defeated
And species maltreated,
Our children are bound to feel cheated.

A relentless array of successive
Disasters has led to progressive
Erosion of my
Self-esteem, which is why
I’m depressive: ’cos they were depressive.

When an enemy enters the fray,
Don’t engage him in muddled mêlée;
To really convulse him,
You need to depulse him:
To thrust him and drive him away.


Though once it was thought de rigueur
For the formally dressed to wear fur,
Fashion etiquette now
Simply doesn’t allow
One to don what would formerly purr.

Dertrotheca? When birdwatchers speak
About that, what’s the dirt, eh, son?” “Eek!
The integument... thing...
Of the dertrum...” I wring
My hands nervously. “Part of its beak?”

If words like integument and dertrum vex you, fear not! The dertrum is what we (well, ornithologists) call the end of a bird’s upper bill when it looks different from the rest. If the difference is that it’s covered by an extra horny bit, then that integument (covering) is called a dertrotheca (-THEE-kuh).

Our kid pulled a descant recorder
From her bag. What came after was border-
line torture: shrill squeaks
We’d be hearing for weeks.
“Did you like it? Miss Smith said it floored ’er.”

Cheap plastic descant or soprano recorders have dominated beginners’ music lessons in schools for years, although in the UK they’re now being displaced by ukuleles, which certainly make for a more exotic rendition of “Greensleeves”.

Desktop video: once pretty nice
For those wanting a nifty device
To edit their movie
In analog (groovy!)—
Computers could join every splice.

Desktop computers became powerful enough to edit analog video in the 1980s, and these desktop video methods reigned until the 1990s, when digital encoding and editing of video became possible. (Although the word is associated with the Sixties, one of the more memorable utterances of “Groovy!” belongs to the Eighties and the character Ash in 1987’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.)

This packet I’ve found’s really neat!
It’s dried out these shoes for my feet
To prevent mouldy smells,
Because silica gel’s
Desiccatory—hence, Do Not Eat.

By avoiding an act of gustation,
You’re preventing your gut’s desiccation
By silica gel,
Which would leave you unwell,
And could lead to an early cremation.

Silica gel is actually non-toxic, so unlikely to lead to your mummification, but its sachets contain other chemicals and can pose a choking hazard, so it’s best not to snack on them.

Yes, this desiccant dries out a shoe,
And that isn’t all it can do—
It dries cameras as well—
But as now you can tell,
It’s unlikely to desiccate you.

Now that Kruschev is running the show,
Let’s de-Stalinize: no Uncle Joe.
All these streets with his name
Are a Soviet shame;
Those moustachioed statues can go.

Though the Soviets used to exalt
Stalin’s memory, this came to a halt
With de-Stalinization.
(Not desalination
That’s removing not statues, but salt.)

Detourism means going back
To the essence of travel: no lack
Of unrecognised places
For one who embraces
Avoiding the oft-beaten track.

Yes, a detourist’s one who embraces
Exploring such little-known places...
That out-of-the-way
Undiscovered café
That’s unused to too many new faces.

Tassie’s black-and-white scavenger met
With initial resistance: “The pet
Of the Devil! Wise up:
It’s Beelzebub’s pup!
And a terror to sheep, don’t forget.”

British settlers at first viewed Tasmanian devils with suspicion, seeing them as a menace to livestock. The threat they posed was overstated, as they eat carrion more often than live prey, but as with thylacines there was a bounty placed on them well into the twentieth century. Unlike the thylacine, this didn’t quite take the species to extinction, and numbers slowly recovered once attitudes changed and the bounty was lifted. In the 21st century, the devil population has been badly hit by devil facial tumour disease, a transmissible cancer spread mainly via devils biting one another.

This black-furred dasyurid, which has a white stripe around its chest and is the size of a small dog, bears little resemblance to the Warner Brothers cartoon character named after it. The species survived on the Australian mainland until three thousand years ago, and there have been recent attempts to reintroduce it there as part of a rewilding campaign. Aboriginal names for the species include purinina and taraba, and one of these might eventually become its new English-language name.

Facial tumours that cover their eyes,
Ears and snouts: will it cause the demise
Of Tasmanian devils?
A biologist levels
With us: finding a cure would be wise.

The transmissible cancer known as devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is estimated to have developed in 1986, but was first detected in Tasmanian devils a decade later. Since then it has spread to two-thirds of the island state and caused an 80% decline in the devil population. The disease is most likely spread through devils biting one another, and is almost always fatal. There is no known cure, although a vaccine candidate has been identified, and there are signs of devils developing genetic resistance to the disease. Efforts are being made to preserve disease-free populations in captivity for later reintroduction into the wild.

The Development Fund for Iraq
Was established once Bush’s attack
Had succeeded; yes, now
He could solemnly vow
That his plan was to give something back.

It was all about the giving all along!

Do you reckon you’re some kind of hero
As you nuke this desired ground zero?
Once your DGZ burns
You shall reap the returns.
Face the music, you latter-day Nero.

The sight of an Arabic dhow
Would in olden days dampen the brow
Of a man on the shore,
As the slavers who bore
Down upon him would soon have him now.

Dhuine-wassals were Scotsmen of rank,
With the Highland clan system to thank.
They were gentlemen, though
Rarely gentle, and so
I’m relieved there weren’t lots, to be frank.

Well, Sir Walter Scott did once write of “wild Duniewassals three thousand times three” who cried “hoigh! for the bonnet of Bonny Dundee”, which would put the frighteners on me if my name were Dundee and I wore a bonnet.

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