Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Currently in the process of playing with Limericks and the meter they use usually requires a meter of long followed by two short syllables or vice versa.

My question, how do you differentiate? Is it by ear? I'm a native speaker but my experience with poetry and meters is very lacking.

share|improve this question
1  
Aren't all syllables the same length, one syllable? –  JeffSahol Sep 24 '11 at 0:16
    
No, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_syllable –  TheIrishGuy Sep 24 '11 at 0:22
3  
Sorry, couldn't resist. But "TheIrishGuy" asking for help with a limerick? I am from NC and don't ask for help dropping my g's. –  JeffSahol Sep 24 '11 at 0:26
    
Don't be shy, @JeffSahol. We can help with that, too. –  onomatomaniak Sep 24 '11 at 6:03
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It would be better expressed as "Stressed" vs. "Unstressed". Take the classic limerick starter, "There once was a man from Nantucket". When you speak the line, the emphasis naturally falls onto certain syllables:

there ONCE was a MAN from nanTUCKet

which looks like

da DA da da DA da da DA da

which is a nice repeating pattern. If you try to substitute Timbuktu for Nantucket, the pattern of the emphasis is destroyed:

there ONCE was a MAN from TIMbukTU

da DA da da DA da DA da DA

As a native speaker, you should have no trouble determining that "Nantucket" fits the stress pattern called for in the standard limerick form, and "Timbuktu" does not.

share|improve this answer
    
Ok, so by ear. I got it. Appears to be something with experience I should get it. Thanks. –  TheIrishGuy Sep 24 '11 at 0:25
1  
+1 for nice choice of Timbuktu to reverse the stress pattern of Nantucket –  FumbleFingers Sep 24 '11 at 0:30
    
+1 for NOT finishing the Nantucket limerick –  JeffSahol Sep 24 '11 at 0:52
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.