Monday, March 10, 2014

Translation Limericks

This blog is usually serious, in intent at least. But let's take a break.

Do you know what a limerick is? In case not, it's a peculiarly English comic verse form: a single verse with a sting in the last line; metre anapaestic; rhyme pattern AABBA; line pattern long, long, short, short, long. But as it's a fun genre, a lot of poetic licence is allowed. Limericks are often – to use a euphemism – ribald: I still remember one from school days that began
There was a young lady of Kent
who said that she knew what men meant...
But the ones that follow won't be of that kind. "Clean if I'm not very clever," as British comedian Arthur Askey used to sing.

To start off, here's pride of place to one about Natural Translation.
There was a young girl of Peru
who started translating at two.
By the time she was five
to her teachers' surprise
she was translating better than you!
(or than me or than anybody else for that matter.)

Only girls?
There was a young boy from Cartagena
who interpreted super-fast without a trainer.
When asked how it could be,
he said, "Here by the sea
in Cartagena we speak Spanish plainer.
Not true, of course. But for the sake of the rhyme.
Both Cartegena (Colombia) and the Cartagena (Spain) are port cities.

The next one is about Bible translation. It helps to know that the great Bible translator St. Jerome was a native of Dalmatia. It also helps to know that adaptation is a constant topic among translation theoreticians, who ponder over where the boundary lies between adaptation and translation proper.
There was an old man, a Dalmatian,
who caused an adaptation sensation.
He cast the whole Universe in doubt
by leaving out
the chapter about the Creation.
And on another hot topic, audiovisual translation. It's very fashionable. Not a week goes by but that I receive the announcement of a lecture, a conference, an article or a book about it.
Are Translators Traitors? They bait the critic
of film, television and rhetoric
by interpretative nuances
taking linguistic chances,
whether subtitled, dubbed, or what makes them tick.

Finally, here's one for all you academics. You need to know that chargé de cours is the lowest teaching rank in French universities, and that the real meaning of French permanence is English 'tenure'.
A proud chargée de cours in Translation
considered she was a gift to the nation.
By departmental attrition
she obtained a position
permanence, which she translated as 'adulation'.
Over to you now. If you have a limerick to contribute, found or original, you can share it as a Comment to this post or send it to me directly at

Limerick (poetry). Wikipedia, 2014. Click here.

Arthur Askey. Wikipedia, 2014. Click here.

For examples of adaptation on this blog, enter aladdin, cinderella or nutcracker in the Search box on the right.

Cover of a book of nonsense poems by Edward Lear, the 19th-century godfather of the limerick.


  1. I think that this Limerick man
    Needs to learn how to properly scan
    His rhymes are all fine
    But there's always a line
    In which he tries to fit more words than he legitimately can.

    1. Ha! Ha! You're right. But it's a fun genre.
      Thanks. B.H.