The Winning Definition of "Madoff," in Limerick Form

We’ve invited a special guest to judge our Bernie Madoff limerick contest: Chris J. Strolin, founder and editor-in-chief of The OEDILF, The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form.

The OEDILF is an international online dictionary-writing project, the goal of which is to write at least one limerick for every definition of every word in the English language. Not quite five years old, it is working its way through the alphabet and currently has more than 50,000 limericks, starting at Aa- and going through Dh-. Chris has written more than 3,300 of these limericks and has helped with the “workshopping” (editing, revising, polishing, etc.) of probably 10 times that many. It may be safely said that he knows his way around a limerick.


The Winning Definition of “Madoff,” in Limerick Form
By Chris J. Strolin
A Guest Post

Greetings All:

The results are in and, as predicted, it wasn’t easy picking a winner. Rather than simply posting those limericks I felt were the best, on the assumption that many of you will be entering other limerick contests in the future, I thought it might be interesting to take this on a step-by-step basis with an eye toward helping you hone your limerick-writing skills for the next time around.

The first step was the easiest. Numbers 2, 4, 9, 48, 60, 68, 72, and 122, thank you for entering, but these aren’t limericks (although #122 was extremely interesting).

The next step was picking out the very good limericks from those that ranged from the fairly snappy to the almost painful to read. In my opinion, the Top 30 limericks were numbers 25, 31, 37, 39, 40, 41, 46, 61, 77, 78, 79, 81, 83, 84, 85, 87, 89, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 100, 104, 108, 109, 112, 115, 119, and 120. It was from this group that I picked the winners.

And what kept a limerick out of the Top 30? Two things will kill a limerick more quickly than anything else: poor meter and faulty rhymes. Having one or two too many unstressed syllables in a line here or there can be survivable, but too many stressed ones? Not so much.

Limericks should be able to be spoken in a normal conversational tone without the reader having to force the stresses anywhere. For example, a fifth line like “Too bad the S.E.C. ignored all the signs” (from a limerick that was fine up until that point) will come out as “too BAD the s-e-C ig-NORED all the SIGNS.” Had it been “Too bad we ignored all the signs” instead, this limerick would have easily placed in the Top 30.

Especially when it comes to contests, rhymes need to be dead on. The following is a very short list of just some of the rhymes that, I’m sorry, just didn’t work for me: Bernie/assure me, Queens/dreams, Bernie/earnings, Bernie/surely/security, and town/spent. Rhymes like fund/refund and Madoff/made off are what are called “homophone rhymes” (rhyming a sound with itself) and should be avoided if at all possible. Then again, rhymes like Bernie/divies/Ponzi and Bernie/supreme/dough will bring you closer to the “This is not a limerick” range.

So who won? There were 122 comments posted in this contest and most of them were entries. If you enjoyed writing your entry, congratulations, you’re a winner! As far as whose limerick topped the rest, keep in mind that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Especially with limerick contests, I’m astounded at how often the judges can be totally off with their final results; so you are all totally free to think that I’ve got it totally wrong; but in my humble opinion, the best of the best was #98 by sqlman:

His investments’ ascent: like a rocket.
His method: his hand in your pocket.
His scheming: detested.
His freedom: arrested.
His future: a day on the docket.

With rhyme and meter perfect throughout, this limerick encapsulates a complex story in just five lines, giving the details very well and in an interesting format. This one shimmers!

Second place goes to #104 by The Tortoise:

The Madoff scam: what’s it about?
Paying Paul (and thus fending off doubt)
By robbing poor Peter;
And what could be neater?
But it palled when the funds petered out

Presenting a strong summing up of the situation, this limerick ends with double wordplay in the fifth line so elegant that I can overlook the lack of an ending period.

And lastly, the title of Miss Congeniality (a.k.a. third place) goes to #78 by Robin:

With Bernie’s cachet as the lure,
Even smart folks invested, quite sure
That with Madoff, funds grow
And sweet dividends flow.
Now they find themselves swindled … and poor.

More perfect rhyme and meter throughout and an accurate telling of the history of this event, but with an interesting pause for dramatic effect at the end — very nice touch!

And were there near misses? Every contest has them, I’m sure. Might #87 have won if its fifth line had been a slightly smoother “I’d quite possibly stand and applaud!”? Could #95 by tough-times have taken the top honors if he/she had been able to avoid the mis-stressing of the word “oversight” as “o-ver-SIGHT” in the fourth line? Might #85 by nrp have run away with the schwag had he/she lost the comma in the first line and moved the exclamation mark down two lines? All three limericks were excellent, so who’s to say?

Anyway, well done, one and all!

I’d like to thank the Freakonomics people for allowing me to take part in this limerick contest, and I would also like to extend an invitation to any and all limerick lovers to visit our website at www.oedilf.com. We’re writing our Limerictionary in alphabetical order, and so we won’t be able to accept any “Madoff, Bernie” limericks for another 15 years or so, but there are plenty of other words out there beginning with Aa- through Dh- (our current alphabetic spread) that you can tackle.

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  1. Not from Nantucket says:

    Nice analysis of an interesting poetry form. Congratulations to the winner. Make sure you report the schwag as income if you ever intend to have a cabinet position for a US president.

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  2. James Roche says:

    I like how the judging of 5-line poems is one of the longest posts I’ve seen on the blog ;)

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  3. frankenduf says:

    excellent post fostering the limerick artform!
    one thing, tho- that line about ‘if you had fun, you’re already a winner’ is a bit soccer mommish- as you point out, real winning limericks are those that inspire our creativity with their simple elegance, not just any random entry that was posited with the hope of standing out- cheers

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  4. Kaitlin Duck Sherwood says:

    I’m not arguing, just puzzled: where is your accent from? For me, “Queens” is a perfect rhyme for “dreams”, and “lure” and “poor” sound distinctly different.

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  5. mrredsun says:

    I think “sure” and “poor” only rhyme in New York. Are rhyming rules true everywhere if they are true somewhere?

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  6. MRB says:

    Yeah,

    Poor and Sure aren’t anywhere close to rhyming. All of the “bad rhymes” given in the intro are better rhymes.

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  7. Gary says:

    “Make sure you report the schwag as income if you ever intend to have a cabinet position for a US president.”

    Made me laugh. But remember, certain deductions could be taken against that income. Surely the allocable portion of your internet access spent reading the Freak blog (and thus, a portion of the cost of your internet connection could be attributed to this income.

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  8. Gary says:

    Dubner is from Pittsburgh if I recall correctly… Home of MAC machines (ATMs) and Pop (which is Soda to the rest of us).

    My family in Western PA also says “red up” instead of “get ready.”

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