A couple of erses


Oedipus and the Sphinx, long before Freud

We’ve mentioned Robert Conquest‘s new book of limericks, Garden of Erses, and wrote about the poet and historian here and hereDave Lull, patron extraordinaire of bloggers, pointed out that a handful of erses were already published in the April edition of Standpoint here.

We’ll cite two of them, to brighten a slow Thursday a bit:

Limerick #1

Said a stammering wit out at Woking,
“Though I like d-d-drinking and smoking
One thing I suppose
I like better than those
Is p-p-p-practical joking.”

Limerick #2

Oedipus said to the Sphinx,
My name’s been perverted by shrinks.
Who’d think that Jocasta’d
Call me a bastard?
I say that psychology stinks.

One question remains:  What’s an “erse”?  My dictionary says:  “Scottish Gaelic, or, less properly, Irish Gaelic.”

Postscript:  In praise of light verse: Frank Wilson at Books Inq alerted me (well, actually, Dave Lull alerted him) to this paean to light verse in The American Scholar:


During the late 1920s and early ’30s, all of New York’s newspapers carried a daily column of light verse, most famously Franklin P. Adams’s “The Conning Tower” and Don Marquis’s “The Sun Dial.” They encouraged submissions from their readers, and it was in those hospitable columns that many men and women who later made their name as writers and playwrights and wits—Dorothy Parker, Russel Crouse, Dorothy Fields, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley–first saw their name in print. As E. Y. (Yip) Harburg put it, “We lived in an age of literate revelry in the New York daily press, and we wanted to be part of it.”

3 Responses to “A couple of erses”

  1. Dave Lull Says:

    From the OED, also:


    ? Obs.

    [a. Fr. ers = Pr. ers, app. cogn. with Cat. er, Sp. yero, yervo, It. ervo:{em}L. ervum.]

    The Bitter Vetch (Ervum Ervilia L.).



    obs. ff. ARSE, q.v. Comb. ersgerdyll (= *arse-girdle); erswort (= *arse-wort), some plant (see quot.).

    1438 E.E. Wills (1882) 110 To Edmond of Cornewayle an ersgerdyll of siluer. a1400 Sloane MS. 10b/1 Pilosella..[French] pilocelle..lambestounge uel erswort.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Ahhhhh… Dave! You beat me to the OED. I was going to look this up when I got home, but forgot.

    But as usual with the OED … what’s the upshot?

  3. Dave Lull Says:

    I asked the publisher what an “erse” is, and he replied:

    ‘”Erse” is an alternative form of “arse,” British vulgar for “ass.” Title is a pun on Robert Louis Stevenson’s book for children “A [Child’s] Garden of Verses.”‘