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I was reading some limericks and I thought about composing them, and I find it very easy to come up with lines that fit the metre.

Is there something about the English language that makes it easy to come up with limericks?

Is there something inherent in English that makes it easy to find rhymes?

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I don't think it specific to English. The Russians have the very similar Chastushki – z7sg Ѫ Sep 6 '11 at 19:10
I was once told that the translation of Dante's Inferno was a massive feat because rhyming in Italian is far easier than it is in English -- I wonder if this is true. – Jeremy Sep 6 '11 at 19:24
@Jeremy Yes it is -- every Italian word ends with a/e/i/o. – z7sg Ѫ Sep 6 '11 at 19:32
Surely limericks should be in Gaelic? – mgb Sep 6 '11 at 20:31
Perhaps just a naturally high frequency of dactyl and trochee patterns? I don't even know if that's remotely true for English, but they're necessary for smooth limericks... – tdhsmith Sep 6 '11 at 21:12
up vote 13 down vote accepted

This answer is mostly a synthesis of the useful discussion found above.

I don't think English is unusually well-suited to Limericks, or, more broadly, highly structured rhymes. One poster mentioned a Russian analog, and in Spanish there is the Quintilla.

I would say that there are a couple of preconditions that a language must meet:

  1. A low average syllable count, so that syllable count problems can be solved more easily. I don't speak German fluently, so I can't say for sure, but I think this criterion would rule it out.

  2. A high proportion of words with terminal vowel sounds for rhyming. Again, I don't speak Hebrew, so I can't say for sure, but I think this criterion would rule it out. As a poster noted above, Italian is probably the best language for this one.

  3. I think the poster above is on to something with the note about dactyls...without a smooth dactyl, you can construct these patterns, yes, but they'll be quite choppy. I have trouble imagining a language without dactyls (though I could imagine a pidgin, I suppose).

I will hazard a guess, here, so take cum grano salis: if English is especially conducive to these criteria, I would say that it's because it is because it is so derivative of other languages. Whatever deficiencies one source may have are pasted over by words rooted in other languages. The example below relies almost entirely on Greek roots for the dactyls, and Germanic roots for low syllable count:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
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English has the ability to drop or add some syllables on demand. For example, limerick generally has three syllables, but to get the above limerick to scan, you need to pronounce it limrick, which is perfectly acceptable in English. I don't know whether there are many languages where you can do this as often as you can in English. – Peter Shor Sep 7 '11 at 18:11
OK. Now give me a plausible-sounding theory for why they are almost all "dirty". I dare you. :-) – T.E.D. Sep 7 '11 at 21:42
It has to do with the socio-economic...power relationships between...ugh, it's too late in the day. – Chris B. Behrens Sep 7 '11 at 21:44
Hebrew is actually quite easy to write uninteresting limericks in. Hebrew words tend to be quite short, syllable-wise; you can also get just about anything to rhyme by converting it into the plural, since they all have the same suffix. What it lacks is those delightful multi-syllabic words where you can get charming rhymes three syllables deep. – Standback Nov 8 '11 at 22:46
"So I was talking to this fellow this other day about the suitability of Hebrew for creating limericks..." - I love the Internet. – Chris B. Behrens Nov 8 '11 at 23:27

It's simply, linguistic'ly logical
That the question is quite tautological;
The limerick's built
On our language's lilt -
Anapestic'ly meter-o-logical.

In other words, it's not that it's easy to write limericks in English; it's that limericks arose from the naturally rollicking anapestic rhythm of the English language.

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But what about English makes it so? – Matt E. Эллен Sep 9 '11 at 7:58
What I mean is, what gives English its anapestic rhythm? – Matt E. Эллен Sep 9 '11 at 8:54
+1 for making me look up "anapestically" – Kevin Apr 4 '12 at 17:50

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