Rude Limericks

In a rare departure from my normal posts, here are a few thoughts on the case of the QI limerick.


This is the verse read out by Stephen Fry:
“There was a young chaplain from King’s
Who talked about God and such things;
But his real desire 
Was a boy in the choir
With a bottom like jelly on springs.”
Responding to a complaint that this was trivialising paedophilia – at a time when the savile case was in the news – the BBC Trust said it was on the margins of acceptability but within guidelines.
A lot of limericks in the oral tradition involve paedophile priests, and many of them are a lot darker and more unpleasant than the one above (it’s OK, you don’t need to send examples!) I think it helped that Fry’s  verse was about a chaplain lusting after a boy rather than actually carrying out abuse. But why the enduring fascination?
Apart from Edward Lear’s gentle nonsense limericks, the form has often been part of an oral tradition used to mock the hypocrisy of those in power and the arbiters of moral authority. And that’s often been accompanied by a desire to shock and to be as sexually explicit as possible.
Fry is a collector of the verse of Norman Douglas, and wrote an introduction to a recent collection of his work.  (Some Limericks, Atlas Press 2009). All are pretty rude, some are very funny and well-written, and some make quite uncomfortable reading.
Although some of the taboos around the ways in which we talk about sex have eased, there is a problem when you derive humour from abuse – as recent controversies over rape jokes show, most people don’t find violent non-consensual sex that funny. And in lampooning the hypocritical abuser, it’s often too easy to abandon empathy with the abused. 
So while I agree with the BBC Trust’s decision, there are some limericks in Norman Douglas’s book, and some I’ve heard over the years, that I wouldn’t advocate reading out on TV. Or tweeting.   


About twitmericks

There is an old fellow called Mick/Who's been penning the odd limerick/I admit he's no Keats/But he does them in tweets/So to follow, you just have to click.!/twitmericks "The limerick master of the twitterati" (The Guardian).
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