Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins


I’ve heard that the management goss is
We’re headhunting: looking at bosses
The firm can recruit,
Who will give us the boot
To address their incredible losses.

Mate, I tell ya, enough headless chook.
Stop your frantic activity. Look,
Maybe runnin’ around
Lookin’ busy seems sound,
But directionless effort is crook.

Running around like a headless chook and similar phrases are the Aussie versions of international equivalents involving headless chickens. In Australia, something crook is bad, inferior, unpleasant or unsatisfactory.

The Hare looked ahead and lost heart:
He and Tortoise were now far apart.
Hare said, “This race is crap!
Can’t a bloke have a nap?
Who gave shell-features there a head start?”

My old man is a bull at a gate;
He’ll act without thinking, not wait.
He’ll rush to a showdown,
Refusing to slow down—
His headstrongness really ain’t great.

Our Head has been left in a lurch:
Hedda’s headed for life in the church.
To choose who recruits
Her replacement, he moots
Using Hedley to head up the search.

Different services feature a wealth
Of approaches to caring for health;
Wealthy Tories propose
To dilute (and then close?)
Our beloved example by stealth.

Walter Cronkite once observed that “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system”. Successive Conservative governments have been gradually preparing the British public for the moment when their National Health Service would follow suit. In 2022, senior party figures began publicly proposing charging residents for GP visits and later for emergency treatment, which would open up a space for private insurers and ultimately the privatisation of UK healthcare.

An American family’s healthiness
Is funded by copious wealthiness,
Or by the procurance
Of stellar insurance,
Or meth-cooking, drug deals and stealthiness.

“I’ve a healthy reluctance,” Con went,
“To abide by your ruling. Get bent!”
But, typically, judges
Can hold healthy grudges:
His offered some healthy dissent.

“That heap of old rubbish ain’t great,”
Said me dad. “Let’s get rid of it. Nate,
Can you give us a hand?”
You wish!” “No, command.”
[Later:] “Nathan, that’s heaps better, mate.”

There was heaps of great tucker, a hearty
Repast, at the aftershow party;
We polished off heaps.
Heard that one of my peeps
Scored the leftovers (“Heaps, mate!”), the smarty.

“There’s cheap flights to Adelaide—should
We get tickets?” “Yeah, s’pose that we could.
I ain’t been there—have you?”
“Yeah, but only passed through.
But they reckon it’s awesome—heaps good.”

Australians often use heaps to mean “much”, as in “it took heaps longer”, making heaps better the equivalent of a whole heap better. It can mean “a lot”—there was heaps of food, we had heaps of fun, I slept heaps—and in that case takes a singular verb, as using were in “there was heaps of food” would suggest that the food was instead arranged in multiple piles. It can also be used like very or really—something impressive is heaps good. And if you give someone heaps, you’re rubbishing, reprimanding or rebuking them—giving them, in effect, a lot of harsh criticism.

On Shakespearean parts Anne depends,
But one casting director offends
Her by calling her “heartling”,
A term she finds startling—
She thought they had just been good friends.

Shakespeare did once use (though he didn’t coin) this old-fashioned equivalent of darling, in the expression od’s heartlings in The Merry Wives of Windsor. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was an odd fashion for dropping the G from interjections involving God, like od’s heartlings, od’s bodikins and od’s wounds.

I’m encouraged to see him take part
In a chat about feelings, and start
Making friends. He can be
Pretty guarded, you see,
So it’s heartening, this heart-to-heart.

His moral decay knows no bounds;
In this silence, his evil resounds.
We see, with such starkness,
The grim heart of darkness—
Though it isn’t as bad as it sounds.

“I really like what you’ve done with the place, Kurtz.”

The Heart of Midlothian sits
In the middle of Edinburgh. It’s
Where a credulous tourist
Or Edinburgh purist
Or desperate Hearts-lover spits.

The Heart of Midlothian, a mosaic embedded in the cobblestones of the Royal Mile outside St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, is all that remains of the city’s second Old Tolbooth (a civic building housing a notorious prison) built in 1561 and demolished in 1817. Local passers-by spit on it for luck, a tradition thought to originate in showing disdain for the conditions suffered by prisoners within the original building. Tourists are told that taking part will ensure their return to Edinburgh.

The Heart became the inspiration for, symbol of and namesake of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club, formed in 1874. Hearts, also nicknamed the Jambos, the Jam Tarts and the Gorgie Boys, play at their home stadium of Tynecastle Park in the Gorgie area of the city, often against their arch-rivals Hibs.

He eats heartily, clearing his plate—
And I’m heartily sick of it, mate.
He laughs heartily, gobbling
The lot, belly wobbling...
I heartily agree, it ain’t great.

Yet more war reports are, I hear, trending,
And the prospect’s remote of their ending.
Too much heartrending news
Has been racking up views,
And our hearts, rent apart, now need mending.

My dream was a little bit weird:
Not spiders this time, as I’d feared
(I suspect I have issues),
But torn bathroom tissues.
Heartwarmingly, puppies appeared.

Hang on... that was an Andrex commercial, not a dream.

Jock MacKnockater, wizened and leathery,
Likes walking in soaking wet weather: ’e
Roams flowering hills
In his kilt, where it thrills
Him to take in the view: “Och, so heathery.”

We end up in the sky at the end?
What, with wings on us? Heaven forfend!
Those celestial feathers
Might tickle our nethers—
Sounds far too arousing, my friend.

People watch scary movies to heighten
Emotions: to feel their chests tighten
And thrill in suspense.
Life is pretty intense—
Pity those of us news reports frighten.

It’s a shame that it’s been a fair while
Since a wave with an affable “Heil!”
Left a neutral impression.
This liberal obsession
With words is so woke. Such a trial!

Ja, a Nuremberg trial.

The English verb heil refers to giving a Nazi salute while exclaiming “Sieg Heil!” or “Heil Hitler!”. Unfortunately, some have been enthusiastically digging it out of the dustbin of history.

You say copter? I beg to demur.
This aircraft’s a helico-pter:
It’s a spiralling wing,
From the Greek—like that thing,
A pteranodon (those didn’t whirr).

He’s hella aggressive, that feller:
The guy is a regular heller.
He’s daring, formidable,
Not really biddable:
I’d pull him in line, but I’m yeller.

The invasion? Our progress is slow.
The enemy’s stubborn, you know.
When we mobilize troops,
We discover that—oops—
They say, “Hell no, we’re not gonna go.”

Or in late 2022, «Ни за что, мы не собираемся идти.»

As the storm hit us hard near the Horn,
Every man of us wished he weren’t born.
The wind howled, the waves lashed;
The ship strained, the rocks gnashed:
“Hell’s teeth!” the mate hollered, forlorn.

“Wanna catch some World Wrestlin’, man?” “Hell yeah!”
As I’m sure you can probably tell, yeah,
I dig a buff dude
Runnin’ round semi-nude.
(I like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as well, yeah.)

The World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly World Wrestling Federation) wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin popularized this phrase by chanting “Give me a hell yeah!” to his audiences.

Feast thine eyes on this chivalrous knight:
His plate armour is polished and bright,
And his headgear’s unique—
Why, it’s shaped like a beak!
Yes, his helmeted pate’s quite a sight.

“I can’t do the dishes!” he’s squealing;
His wife rolls her eyes to the ceiling.
“Oh, I’ll do them then.”
What is it with men?
Learned helplessness isn’t appealing.

The helvella’s a helluva sight,
With irregular cap, grey or white,
Fluted stem, and an elf
Sat astride it (myself,
I’ve not seen one of those, but you might).

Helvellas, commonly known as elfin saddles, are mushrooms of the genus Helvella from the northern hemisphere. The whitish H. crispa and the grey H. lacunosa are two well-known species; others come in shades of white, black, grey or brown.

Frank’s stamps have him stumped. “Hey, what’s this?
Where the hell is Helvetia, then, sis?”
His frank sibling says, “Sheesh!
It’s from Latin, capiche?
It’s the name of that miss who is Swiss.”

Helvetia derives from the Latin Helvetii, the Celtic tribe who lived on the Swiss plateau in Roman times. Although poetically used as a synonym for Switzerland, it’s properly the name of the country’s national personification, a female figure with spear and shield who first appeared in the 17th century—the Swiss equivalent of Marianne or Uncle Sam. The name is well known to philatelists, numismatists, and visitors to Switzerland, as it appears on Swiss stamps and (with an image of Helvetia herself) its ½, 1 and 2 franc coins. Other Swiss coins are designated Confoederatio Helvetica, the proper Latin name of the Swiss Confederation, which gives Switzerland its two-letter country code of CH and top-level domain of .ch.

A hemina was half, and no less,
Of a sextary—roughly, I guess,
Half a pint. Twelve of those
Made a congius. S’pose
You’d eight congii? Amphora, yes.

The ancient Roman measures of liquid volume (not all of which made it from Latin into English) were two heminae (or cotylae) in a sextarius or sextary, six sextarii in a congius, and eight congii in an amphora (or amphora quadrantal), which made 96 heminae or 48 sextarii per amphora. Oh, and there was also the urna, equivalent to 4 congii.

Not only for liquids, but dry
Measures also, the Roman hemi-
na was roughly a cup.
You could eat that much, yup—
A modius, though, and you’d die.

For dry volume, the Romans used the hemina/cotyla, sextarius/sextary (2 heminae), semimodius (8 sextarii), modius (16 sextarii) and modius castrensis (24 sextarii). For both dry and liquid volumes, half a hemina was a quartarius, half a quartarius was an acetabulum, a third of a quartarius was a cyathus, and a quarter of a cyathus was a ligula.

A hemina was twice, and no more,
A quartarius. Also, before
You go home, half of that?
Acetabulum. Scat!
Enough measurements now, ancient bore.

Six cyathi made a hemina;
A ligula, meanwhile, was kin’a
Two teaspoons’ worth; four
Made a cyathus. More?
Please, not now—you’ll bring on my angina.

All were based on the sextarius, defined as 1⁄48 of a cubic foot. Using known measures for Roman feet, we can calculate that a sextarius was 546 ml, but no two surviving vessels measure an identical volume, and scholarly opinion on the actual volume ranges between 500 ml (two metric cups) and 580 ml. That made a modius upwards of 8 litres, more than you’d want to consume at once of anything.

To confuse matters further: a Greek amphora was between 38 and 41 litres; in the Middle Ages, a sextary was a large measure for liquid, varying locally between 18 and 27 litres; and congius is also the pharmaceutical name for a gallon, represented in prescriptions by the letter C. The hemina was also a dry measure of varying quantities in different times and places—in the 18th century, for example, it was 75 livres of grain (around 37 kg) in Marseille, but nine bushels (weighing several times as much) in Barbary.

Our instructor is fit; his physique
Is impressive. His torso is sleek
And well-muscled: he’s hench.
He can easily bench
Fifty kilos (...across a whole week).

For a villain, a henchman’s the rage,
Though for masterminds younger in age,
A henchboy’s preferred.
(It’s a genuine word;
Once it meant an attendant or page.)

“A triangle? Easy: there’s three
Edges.” “What, then, would eight edges be?”
“Um, an octagon’s eight.”
“Very clever! But wait...
A hendecagon?” “Three and eight—see?”

3 + 8 = 4 + 7 = 5 + 6 = an 11-sided polygon, more commonly known as an undecagon.

A henfruit (called also hen’s fruit)
Is the product of chickens; it’s beaut
Either scrambled or fried.
All yolking aside,
It’s an eggsellent food, no dispute.

A henroost is where every hen,
Fowl or chicken, again and again,
Goes to sleep until morn.
At the first light of dawn,
Rowdy roosters will roust ’em all then.

Drugs and alcohol come back to bite us
In the form of disease: hepatitis
Causes livers to spiral.
Some types can be viral;
B and C in particular blight us.

Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver, usually as a result of viral infection or liver damage caused by drinking alcohol. The five main strains of hepatitis virus, types A, B, C, D and E, differ in modes of transmission, severity of illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods. Types B and C, which affect an estimated 354 million people worldwide, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and viral hepatitis-related deaths.

While foraging herbage, our cattle
Engaged in a raging cow battle:
“MooOOOOoove your arse
And quit eating my grass!”
It’ll damage relations, their spat’ll.

The woman with whom I would sleep
Thinks I’m some kinda wolf (“You’re a creep!”).
I fancy I’ll give ’er a
Book on herbivora—
Grass-eaters—“See? I love sheep.”

The study of herbs, often viewed
In a medical light, is one you’d
Find is dope an’ amazing.
Light up and get blazing—
You’ll dig some herbology, dude.

Hereditary rights, you inherit,
Regardless of fairness or merit,
From parents. Note, please,
That one kind of disease
Is hereditary too: families share it.

From the highest authority’s whence
Our laws issue. Moreover, herehence
Comes this solemn decree:
“Thou shalt bow down to me.”
Yet ye doubters remain on the fence!

In this place, on this spot, the sun shone,
And my homelessness worries were gone.
This small cottage for rent
Seems to me heaven-sent:
Hereon’s where I’ll reside from hereon.

Hereon originally referred to a physical location, “this place”, but now usually means a point in time, as in “from this point forward”.

“Is it heres or hers?” Any Middle
English speaker (who Heaven forbid’ll
Get trapped in our time)
Can confirm for our rhyme,
“Sirra, heres doth ansswer thy ridil.”

Here’s Luck, Lennie Lower’s book, told
Of Jack Gudgeon, a bloke (“I’m not old!”)
Who enjoyed the odd drink.
There are Aussies who think
It’s our funniest tale to behold.

Lennie Lower (1903–1947) is considered by many to be one of Australia’s funniest writers. He wrote up to eight columns a week for various Sydney newspapers during the Depression and World War II before dying of cancer. Personally, I think his sense of humour worked better at column length than over a whole novel, but Here’s Luck (named after a popular Australian toast, as was its 1932 sequel, Here’s Another) certainly opens well: “It is absolutely ridiculous to call a man of forty-eight old.” For a man in his twenties when he wrote it in 1929 (it was published the following year), he captured well the bitter musings of an inebriated middle-aged Sydneysider who had just been abandoned by his wife.

Hermitary: Cell of a hermit
(His room, as today one might term it);
The place in an abbey
He’d go to when crabby—
Old tales of mad hermits confirm it.

Dactylic hexameter: Greeks
Used to love it; in poems, it speaks
Of heroic ideals.
This metre, though, feels
Worse for limericks—needs a few tweaks.

Iambic pentameter, too,
Gets this label, heroic; I do
Find it easier reading,
But listen, I’m pleading:
Don’t use it in limericks, you.

Limericks are anapaestic/amphibrachic trimeter/dimeter, so knowledge of classical and English epic poetry won’t help you there. The Ancient Greeks and Romans favoured dactylic hexameter (lines of six feet, each with the rhythm DUM-dah-dah or DUM-DUM, a dactyl or a spondee), while Shakespeare and his pals liked iambic pentameter (lines of five feet, each with the rhythm duh-DUM, an iamb). Both are considered forms of heroic meter, suitable for epic or heroic poetry. Alexandrines, with six iambic feet, are the usual heroic verse form in modern French; other forms have been used in different languages, times and places.

“Not the study of herpes! It’s logical!”
(Not a fan of this guy’s pedagogical
Style—he’s no wizard
At teaching.) “It’s lizard-
Related. Hence, herpetological.”

Herpetology is the study of reptiles, so herpetological, or herpetologic, means related to the study of reptiles, not herpes. Things relating to herpes are herpetic—see? Completely different. 48/100, see me after class.

“We herrenvolk here in this place
Are the country’s divine master race:
Its true rulers, all right,
Over folk who aren’t white.
We need living room here—give us space!”

Although Herrenvolk stems from the German,
It’s not only from Nazis: this term, in
The past, was colonial
Masters’ baloney—you’ll
Find that reminding prompts squirmin’.

In the nineteenth century this term was used to justify colonialism on the basis of supposed European “superiority”. The political system of herrenvolk democracy, or arguably more accurately herrenvolk republicanism, took this logic to its extreme in countries such as the Confederate States of America, Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, by disenfranchising non-whites.

You would swear that he aims to usurp us.
How many damned fish will he slurp? Us
Poor fishermen! Why,
He’s a herring hog! I
Say, that porpoise is pigging on purpose.

Herring-hog, says the Oxford English Dictionary, is seventeenth-century dialect for “the grampus”, which in turn is “the popular name of various delphinoid cetaceans”, though I doubt we’d say that it’s popular today. Grampus was mainly applied to orcas, but also to pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins (the only members of the genus of the same name), so we can assume that herring-hog was similarly broad; indeed, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that a herring hog is the harbor porpoise, Phocoena phocoena. Let’s just say that a herring hog is one of various toothed cetaceans that like to pig on fish, if not go the whole hog and pig out.

Through glass prisms, astronomers gaze
At the spectrum’s Herschelian rays:
They’re invisible, so
They can’t see them. Oh no!
They’ll be feeling like asses for days.

The German-born British astronomer William Herschel (1738–1822), remembered for his discovery of Uranus (tee-hee), also discovered infrared radiation while using prisms and temperature measurements to determine the wavelength distribution of stellar spectra. He called his discovery calorific rays, later renamed Herschelian rays, then ultra-red, and finally infrared: that is, electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength greater than red light’s and (as subsequently determined) less than that of microwaves. The adjective Herschelian is also applied to telescopes of his improved design.

Herschel’s discovery of the first new planet since antiquity made him an overnight sensation, and saw him appointed as Court Astronomer to George III. He later discovered two of Uranus’s moons and two of Saturn’s, concluded from his observations that the Milky Way was disc-shaped, and established that coral was an animal and not a plant.

Norm Hetherington took on a gig
For six weeks, but then managed to squig-
gle his way into kids’
Tiny hearts: what he did’s
Combine puppets and art to hit big.

Norm Hetherington (1921–2010) was an Australian puppeteer and cartoonist (as Heth) who moved into television when a temporary fill-in spot on the ABC led to one of the longest-running shows on Australian children’s television, Mr Squiggle.

Mr Squiggle would dance like a loon
As he spacewalked his way to the Moon,
Sketching stuff with his nose...
I’ll explain, I suppose:
He was Hetherington’s puppet, ya goon.

At the start of each show, the title character, a marionette with a pencil for a nose, would descend to earth in Rocket, chat for a bit with his human assistant (in my day Miss Pat, who went on to produce the films Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli), and then start completing drawings from “squiggles” sent in by kids. He would then reveal what it was by asking his assistant to turn it “upside down, Miss Pat!”—though if he got distracted, he might “go for a spacewalk” by dancing off into the air. Squiggle and the other characters—Rocket, Blackboard, Bill Steamshovel and Gus the Snail, all performed and voiced by Hetherington—were as well-known to Aussie kids of the era as the characters of Sesame Street. The show ended in 1999 after forty years on air.

Food with sweetener always tastes neat,
And this high-fructose corn syrup’s sweeeet!
Sure, it keeps us all fat,
But hey, what’s wrong with that?
What competes with a sweet corny treat?


This silvery liquid, Hg,
Quickly poisons the fish in the sea.
We shouldn’t just settle
For keeping this metal
From drains: keep it arm’s length from me.

The fact we saw alchemists prizing
Hg has a way of disguising
Its value to science:
Weather forecasts’ reliance
On thermometers’ mercury rising.

One of the seven metals of alchemy, mercury (also called quicksilver or formerly hydrargyrum) has been known since ancient times. In modern science and medicine, mercury and its compounds have had applications in dental amalgams, vaccine preservatives and antiseptics, although their medical use is in decline owing to their extreme toxicity. For that same reason, most thermometers now use pigmented alcohol instead of mercury.

“Fa-la-la, bring me barrels of wine!
Snapped the minstrel, “And quickly, you swine!
I’ve a headache tonight.
Seven hogsheads of white
And 12 hhds of red should be fine.”

A hogshead (abbreviated hhd, plural hhds) is a large cask, usually of alcohol, of a specified volume that varied from 45 to 61 imperial gallons over time and for different beverages, eventually ending up at 52.5 imperial gallons for wine and 54 gallons of beer or ale (either imperial or the older, slightly larger English brewery cask gallons). A tobacco hogshead was even bigger, at least 120 imperial gallons in volume and 1000 pounds when fully packed. I’ll leave the metric conversions to beer, wine and whisky merchants.

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