Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins


This auld city gets covered in haar—
In this fog, you can’t see very faar—
Aye, at best, thirty feet,
To the end of the street—
So be cautious when driving your caar.

Edinburgh, being next to the Firth of Forth on the edge of the North Sea, often gets blanketed in thick fog in summer, the result of warm air meeting the cold sea.

No sea lions or fur seals are hair seals,
As hair seals are true seals; see, where seals
Will differ’s their flippers
And ears. Hair seal nippers
Are earless. And cute: see those there seals?

Hair seals are members of the seal family Phocidae, also known as the true seals, earless seals, crawling seals or phocids. Apart from their lack of external ears, you can tell a hair seal by its hind flippers, which are reduced to swimming flippers only, rather than flippers they can walk on (as fur seals and sea lions can).

Fern H. Lanosa—man, can she turn
People’s heads: her brown stems never burn,
And although she’s got wrinkles,
Her silver ’tache twinkles;
It’s why she’s called “Hairy Lip” Fern.

The evergreen hairy lip fern (Hemionitis lanosa, LAN-oh-suh) has upright, mid-green leaves with a wrinkled surface, silvery, hair-like scales on both sides, and brown stems (actual stems, not legs).

I like minty aromas, and should mint
Be your favourite too, then a good mint
To plant is hirsute
And herbaceous to boot—
Yes, I’m talking about hairy wood mint.

Blephilia hirsuta is covered with long white hairs and ends in several whorls of light blue, pale purple or white flowers (in the latter case, with purple spots). Herbaceous plants have no persistent woody stems above ground, so hairy wood mint doesn’t mean it’s made of hairy wood; it means it’s found in the woods (hairy or otherwise) of southern Quebec, Ontario, and the eastern United States.

I went to the hairdresser’s, but
His salon looked as if it was shut.
Then he beckoned me in
With a bottle of gin;
Now my hair—just like him—is half-cut.

This British and Australian slang term for “half-drunk” has, strangely, no “completely drunk” equivalent.

Gorgonzolas and bries go right through me.
You say to try parmesan? Do me!
Melted cheddar’s no thrill—
Gimme cheese you can grill.
I’m a fan of halloumi. So sue me.

This squeaky cheese from Cyprus stands up to grilling without melting, making a thick slice of halloumi an ideal vegetarian burger substitute.

Your racehorse? I venture it’s plain
Hambletonian sired its strain.
The horse of that name
Had superior game,
Procreating again and again.

Hambletonian (1849–1876), an American harness racehorse or Standardbred, was the ancestor of 99% of today’s North American harness racers; the strain he sired is known by his name. In 24 seasons at stud, he produced more than 1300 foals, making his owner William Rysdyk a wealthy man.

At their handfasting, Morag and Clive
Joined together in marriage. Well, I’ve
Got to give them a hand:
Unofficial, but grand.
(Wasn’t catered, though. How’d I survive?)

Historically, a handfasting was either a betrothal or, especially in Scotland, a private unofficial marriage ceremony. Today the term is used for neo-pagan commitment ceremonies.

Where’s that guy with the red-and-white shirt?
Martin, give us a hand, for’t can’t hurt.
What’s his name again? Golly,
I thought it was Wally.
Well, do remain on the alert.

British children’s author and illustrator Martin Handford (b. 1956) is the creator of the Where’s Wally? books, published in the US as Where’s Waldo? Featuring 300 to 500 tiny cartoon figures on each large two-page spread (and one particular one in a red-and-white-striped shirt), the books were a worldwide hit and a boon to optometrists everywhere.

I’ll hand on this land to my son,
To complete all the work I’ve begun.
Dad handed it on
Once to me; now he’s gone,
All these handyman jobs are no fun.

These bananas were chosen—hand-picked—
By our doleful employer, who’s strict
About standards. This coot
Insists “all hand-picked fruit
Must be perfect!” All green, I predict.

“These coins were all legally minted!”
(They’re bottle caps.) “Uncle Dave hinted
This note’s FIFTY POUNDS!”
(Not as good as it sounds:
It’s a Post-It—the 50’s hand-printed.)

This happening’s groovy! Yeah, man:
There’s weed and good vibes—really can
Feel the music flow through me
While hippy chicks do me!
Too bad that my dad’s not a fan.

My darlin’ Michelle said she’ll marry
Me! Mate, I am bustin’ to carry
Her over the threshold!”
“Sure sounds pretty spesh, old
Friend.” “Feller, I’m happy as Larry.”

The service was quite happy-clappy,
Which isn’t to say it was crappy:
The sermons were fine,
And the singers divine,
And their Christian rock anthems were snappy.

This usually derogatory British slang term is used of evangelical groups whose worship tends to the enthusiastic. It can also be used as a noun to mean a member of such a group.

Happy little Australians adore
Their Vegemite, crying out, “More!
For breakfast and lunch,
We’ll consume a whole bunch,
Till we chuck up all over the floor.”

Hang on... that isn’t how the song goes: as the famous 1954 commercial for the iconic yeast extract had it, happy little Vegemites are “as bright as bright can be” and “adore our Vegemite”, which “puts a rose in every cheek”. The term has gone into Australian English as an equivalent of happy camper—that is, a satisfied person.

I’m filled with despair, and yet glad;
Sometimes laugh as I cry, happy-sad.
I feel joyous, although
I’ve my fair share of woe:
As emotions go, good—also, bad.

Happy slapping: a camera-phone craze,
In which YouTuber youths spent their days
Filming victims they’d slap
(As in, beating the crap
Out of), share it, then bask in the praise.

The grim fad of happy slapping emerged in Britain in the 2000s when camera-phones first became widely available. Happy slappers would find an unsuspecting victim and happy slap them while a friend was filming, then share the phone footage via Bluetooth, as physical recordings, or online. At first, happy slapping was literally slapping or hitting, but over time became more violent, with some cases involving grievous bodily harm, rape or even death.

Happy valley: a wonderful place
Of tranquillity, beauty and grace.
It’s also a show
Set in Yorkshire, although
For its image, a slap in the face.

The acclaimed BBC drama Happy Valley followed Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) across three series from 2014–23 as she confronted suicide, murder, kidnapping, rape, arson, blackmail, human trafficking, drug dealing and serial killing, ending up with more than one black eye along the way.

He’s hard-arsed—hangs onto his money—
And a hard-arse—don’t look at him funny—
And he’s sat over there
On that hard-arsed old chair,
Looking tight-arsed and rough ’n’ tough, honey.

The British and Australasian versions of hard-ass and hard-assed have more meanings than their American equivalents’ senses of a tough and uncompromising person or of being both. While those are indeed the main meanings of hard-arse(d), hard-arse can also mean third-class train travel or a hard-seated chair, while being hard-arsed—as well as also applying to chairs—can mean someone is a tight-arse, or stingy with money.

Our father was pretty hard-fisted:
Entreaties for cash he resisted.
When spending a penny,
He wouldn’t share any,
Which left Mum pissed off. “Your dad’s twisted!”

Public toilets in the UK used to have a price of admission, which led to spending a penny becoming a euphemism for taking a leak (to use another). Now they only gouge the desperate in train stations and the like—in women’s toilets, usually, which is why being tight-fisted with his change was a rotten way for this guy to treat his spouse.

Tommy suffered throughout the Great War: he
Got gassed in the trenches; his gory
Wounds marred him with scars.
Now, hard-heartedly, Pa’s
Calling all of it “Tom’s hard-luck story”.

In the States, the hard right want a fight
With Latinos and Jews: “They ain’t white!
They’re all liberal and woke,
Not like him, her ’n’ folk—
Yet they all get to vote! It’s hard, right?”

With immigrants, too: the hard right
Want to “give them illegals a fright”.
They’re biding their time
Till they’ve made it a crime
To exist if a person’s non-white.

How ya goin’ mate, orright... you heard?
Seems that Nathan has put the hard word
On Alyssa. He started
To kiss her—she farted.
Now Nate’s broken-hearted. Absurd.

Ninety bucks! A ridiculous sum.
What the hell are they thinkin’, I’m dumb?
There’s no way I can pay it.
I’m sorry to say it—
Had to put the hard word on me mum.

In Australia and New Zealand, a hard word can mean a troublesome request; to put the hard word on someone is to ask them insistently for a favour or a loan. Usually this involves money, but sometimes the favour has sexual overtones.

Your daughter’s a mighty hard worker—
At tackling her tasks, a berserker.
I’d hire her at once.
Your son though’s a dunce—
Soft-headed, weak-willed and a shirker.

Hari-kari, the English would call
Harakiri or seppuku—all
Meaning self-disembowelment.
This verdict most foul meant
A Japanese soldier would fall.

“Foul” being in the eye of the beholder; for samurai and their military successors in World War II, harakiri (the full ceremonial form of which was called seppuku) was an honourable death. For the Allied soldiers and prisoners of war observing it, not so much, which must be why they didn’t bother getting the name right. [Whistles “Colonel Bogey”...]

The harp seal’s adorable cub
Is so fluffy and white! Here’s the rub:
It lives far to the north.
Hence our sallying forth—
How I want one! You too? Join the club.

Unfortunately, this limerick is set in the days when baby harp seals were being clubbed to death by sealers in the Canadian Arctic. Even more unfortunately, at the time of writing in 2023, those days aren’t over. (A baby seal is properly called a pup, but cub is also often used.)

If on Facebook you publicly state
That, because of some typical trait,
A particular person
Or group deserves cursin’,
Your speech shows a penchant for hate.

Attempt to define have a go?
(Coined in Britain? Apparently so.)
It’s “to make an attempt”.
Now I’m feeling verklempt...
I’m a have-a-go hero, you know.

Have a go dates to the eighteenth century, but the phrase have-a-go hero (also originally British) is more recent: it means an ordinary person who attempts to stop a crime by doing something brave. Just as I have bravely attempted to prevent the crime of etymological insufficiency.

“So, 2 and 8 makes... what’s their sum?”
“Mum, I’m nearly fourteen, I’m not dumb.”
“You’re a bit dumb, though, Grace.”
“Rack off, Luke! Shut your face!
Luke is having a go at me, Mum!”

In Australia, as in Britain, to have a go at someone is to attack or criticize them. Rack off is an Aussie equivalent of piss off (or worse) in the sense of “go away”; you can be told to rack off, and if you comply you can be described as having racked off. Unlike piss off (and worse), though, you can’t rack someone off; it doesn’t mean “annoy”.

I’ll attempt the 100-yard dash—
It’s my last running record to smash.
I’ll compete with the best,
And I’ll whip all the rest.
Let’s crack on! Time to try! Have a lash!

This runner from Australia or New Zealand, where this phrase is equivalent to have a go, must have been racing before 1970, the last year that the 100-yard dash was included in the Commonwealth Games. Nowadays he or she would have a lash at the 100-metre sprint.

I’m the gentleman thief—quite a toff—
You call Phantom. Monsieur, you may scoff,
But this diamond, I think—
Yes, the “Panther” that’s pink—
Is a stone I’m about to have off.

“Have you any last requests?” the man said.
Possibilities run through my head—
One last smoke, final meal,
Even sex—but I feel
That the best reply’s “not to be dead”.

The state of Hawaii’s a place
Where getting a punch in the face
Means enjoying a drink.
(Or does it? I think
That I’ve somehow misstated the case.)

Hawaiian Punch, originally created in 1930s California as an ice cream topping using fruit juices imported from Hawaii, was marketed in drink form and became a national US brand in the 1950s. The brand has changed hands many times, and is now owned by Keurig Dr Pepper. The original red drink is currently accompanied by thirteen other flavours.

Australians knew him as Bob,
The PM who made voters’ hearts throb.
The bodgie I talk
Of was Labor’s Bob Hawke,
Whose silver tongue got him the job.

Robert James Lee Hawke (1929–2019), Australia’s 23rd prime minister from 1983 to 1991, returned Labor to power after a difficult decade, during most of which he had been president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. After entering parliament in 1980, Hawke replaced ALP leader Bill Hayden on the same day in 1983 that Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called a snap election; Fraser had been hoping to get in before the opposition changed leaders, but miscalculated. The charismatic Hawke won the election, and led Labor to victory three more times, before being replaced by his long-time treasurer, Paul Keating. A former Rhodes Scholar, Hawke was nicknamed the “Silver Bodgie” for his distinctive coif and after the bodgies and widgies of the 1950s, the Australian biker youth culture equivalent of rockers in the UK or greasers in the US.

Our inertia about what we hurt’ll
Endanger the seas. Take this turtle:
The hawksbill, when caught, as well
As food, gave us tortoiseshell,
But isn’t sufficiently fertile.

Hawksbill sea turtles and their eggs have been a food source for centuries, and their ornate shells were the source of the tortoiseshell used around the world for decorative items. Hunting, the wider impact of fishing, the turtles’ slow growth and low reproductive rates, and the vulnerability of their nesting sites to human encroachment and predators have led to their numbers falling by eighty percent over three generations, and the species has been considered critically endangered since the mid-1990s.

Our hayward is mending the fences
And minding the fields; his expenses
Are met by the town,
But unless they come down
Our accountant will come to her senses.

After all, how many towns still have a hayward?

Her hair colour’s chestnut, a strong
Reddish-brown, but the kid’s got it wrong:
He’s made it look, crazily,
A light brown, or hazelly,
Colour. Ain’t painted for long...

Well, what do you expect from a two-year-old’s portrait of his Mum?

In the warm, off the White Cliffs of Dover,
The Channel begins to haze over.
The sunset’s a blur
As the fishing boats stir
And their crews dream of living in clover.

In a primary classroom, you’ll see
Children using, to write, an HB.
This medium hard
Pencil writes well on card
And on paper. All drawn from a tree.

And for the pencil leads, from a mixture of graphite and clay. The equivalent of a US #2 pencil, the HB (for “hard black”) is ubiquitous in British and Australian primary schools. I always preferred a softer 2B.

Some trumpet the drug HCQ
To stop COVID-19, but if you
Want to take my advice...
Well, I’d say to think twice.
It isn’t what doctors would do.

Hydroxychloroquine, an analogue of chloroquine, is primarily used to prevent and treat malaria. It was studied along with chloroquine for its potential to treat COVID-19, but clinical trials found it ineffective and a possible cause of dangerous side effects.

“My iMac is cactus!” I cried.
“The h-hard drive is totally fried.
All I see’s a s-stinking
Disk icon that’s blinking.
The... HDD... huh-has... d-died.”

Here’s a reading of this limerick.

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