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 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.

Not from Nantucket

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.

James Roche

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


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

Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

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.


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



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


"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.


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."

Rob Doe

If the run to the shore is quite good,
you have won something more than a flood.
It will flow, I am sure,
Through some areas poor,
Then dry out, and without Air Force Bud!

Well, this is so messy, I'd hand it over to OEDILF editors.

Sure, I'm poor!

Rob Doe

mrred, no, everything is different, everywhere. Tho' the same!


I thought the Defined Word had to be included in the limerick ... The winning entry does flow nicely. I know more about limericks now than I ever did, that's for sure!

Rob Doe

Red up! as Get-up! is unknown on this side of the Atlantic.

Though we do have swats who are well 'read-up' on given topics

Chris J. Strolin

Ref the length of my post, I'm not a regular here so I suppose I should claim ignorance, though I am aware that when it comes to limericks, I tend to be a bit on the chatty side. Sorry.

Ref "If you enjoyed writing your limerick, you're a winner," yes, that was a bit cloying, maybe, but I meant it. What I wanted to say was "If you enjoyed writing a limerick that finished well out of the money, think about how good you'd feel writing one that DOESN'T suck.."

Ref the rhymes, there's an "n" near the end of "Queens" and, as such, that word rhymes perfectly with "teens," "means," and "smithereens." OTOH, "dreams" has that "m" there, making it a perfect rhyme with "seems," "screams," and "extremes." But "Queens/dreams"? Sorry, but that's what's called "assonance," the repetition of vowel sounds within words. It can make for an interesting literary device, but it's not a rhyme.

The "sure/poor" pairing is a dead-on rhyme to my ear, though, since you asked, I was born and raised in a Connecticut suburb of New York City, so that might have had a hand in it all. We deal with regional accents on a daily basis on If you state that a rhyme works for you in your area of the world, that's generally fine by us.



For a "blog", you guys really don't like linking. How about fixing it up so your loyal, but not slavish, readers can easily review the entries cited?


"red up" means clean-up, in yinzer speak.

hence the campaign to "red up the town"

"pop" is a fairly common term in other parts of the US too. much more curious colloquialisms out there: "n'at", "dahntahn", "stillers", "imp n'arn".

also, can't imagine how crazy your accent is if "sure" and "poor" don't rhyme. then again, i'm from NY.


I know it's too late for the contest, but I couldn't resist:

Investment is always a trade-off,
Unless you trusted Bernie Madoff.
Forget any desire
You may have to retire,
And just hope that you will not get laid off.


Dean Laxer

All three limericks put mine to shame, no doubt about that, but something puzzles me. #2 and #3 both tell the story and link Madoff to it very well, #1 tells the story of the scam perfectly but fails completely to link it to the scamming hound.

The header to the competition says..."A piece of Freakonomics schwag goes to the reader who submits the best definition for Bernie Madoff." The only thing that links that piece to B. Madoff is the fact that it was in a competition bearing his name, take it away from here and it could refer to hundreds if not thousands of financial cheats.

The limerick does indeed "shimmer" but for me it fails to show the fundamental requirement of naming the culprit.


My take on the lure/sure/poor debate (note: I have a vaguely northeast US accent): Are any of these rhymes really that different that the limerick taken as a whole doesn't sound right? While they don't actually rhyme when I say the words alone, I barely noticed when reading the limerick because it flowed well. That being said, you guys do have a point that it doesn't quite fit with the nitpickiness of the rest of the post.


Indeed, the header to the competition says…”A piece of Freakonomics schwag goes to the reader who submits the best definition for Bernie Madoff.”

It *doesn't* say ”A piece of Freakonomics schwag goes to the reader who submits the best definition for Bernie Madoff that includes the word 'Madoff' within it.”

In a Bernie Madoff limerick contest, who do you think the "his" used six times in the winning limerick refers to? What does putting the piece in some other context have to do with judging this contest?

Dean Laxer

Steve, thank you for your response.

You ask "who do you think the “his” used six times in the winning limerick refers to? " It refers to Bernie of course, but only here and now.

You ask "What does putting the piece in some other context have to do with judging this contest?" It means that it can not stand alone as a definition, therefore it is not a definition.