In a word . . . Doggerel

A kind reader (there being no other type!) stopped me in my tracks – so to speak – recently with an odd request. It was so charmingly put, and flavoured with such sweet flattery I had to, there and then, press the pause button in my psyche and say to myself: “Stall the jigger a minute, boy.”

I realised that, however I wracked what passes for my brain, I was at my wit’s end to help this man. But hark! A voice like thunder spake (it happens). And it said: “Why not ask the kind readers?”

It is a touching story really. This man’s late father used to quote snippets “of nonsense songs or rhymes (doggerel?) that he said his father in turn used to relate, so they would go back to the late 1800s”. In west Kerry.

The reader wondered, “Is there any anthology or source that collects such stuff?” I had no answer. Maybe you have.

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He provided examples of his father’s and grandfather’s “nonsense songs”. Here’s one: “A doctor from the south/Took a month to find his mouth/He thought it was somewhere behind his ear . . .”

Here’s another: “I was shipwrecked on an island/to wind and rain exposed-ah/surrounded by cannibals, it was their native shore-ah./They addressed me in a language, decidedly their own-ah/Charlie G Jippidy I/ Jippidy I exposed-ah/ Ikey Sikey Deekerikey/Jonny go walloping Norah.”

Clear as day to me,-ah! The poor reader said, “These rhymes regularly jump into my head and I would love to know if there is any beginning or end to them”. Can you help? If you think so email me at the address below and I’ll forward your response.

Meanwhile, it won't surprise you to hear I've always liked the odd bit of doggerel myself. But far and away my favourite in that select genre is by Lewis Carroll. In his Through the Looking Glass lies Jabberwocky, a masterpiece which makes Finnegans Wake (ahem) seem like, well, doggerel. It begins: "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/All mimsy were the borogoves,/And the mome raths outgrabe."

Pure poetry. So lyrical-aahh . . .

Doggerel is thought by the experts to derive from “dog”, as in being fit only for dogs (who read presumably), and applies to bad poetry where rhyme is forced or banal. Which means they haven’t a clue. Pathetic really.