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December 20, 1987

CHRISTMAS LIMERICKGRAM

By CBR Staff Writer

The association between computers and the form of nonsense verse known as the Limerick has an honourable history: indeed it goes back at least a decade to the year when Malcolm Peltu as editor of Computer Weekly created a Poetry Issue for Christmas. Not only was there a Poetree page inside, but dotted throughout the paper were news stories expertly rendered in verse.

Standing proud among the items in that Christmas issue long ago, appeared what may well be the very first computer news story ever to be rendered as a limerick, concerning the announcement that the company now called AM International was about to buy Jacquard. It was noteworthy for the inclusion of the famous Computer Weekly reference back to an earlier issue, and it went as follows:

A buyer for Jacquard’s been found, For just about 10 million pound, But it’s not ITT (See Oct 19, Page Three), They’re Addressograph-Multigraph bound.

These days, computer limericks – or computericks as they’re colloquially known, are a good deal more sophisticated, going in for the wry kind of social comment to be found in these two recent examples of the genre:

A sad loss to Wang was John Cunningham, But the good doctor’s given to stunning ’em: He said Job must be done By Number One Son: Now the Lowellers find young Frederick running ’em.

IBM’s chairman John Akers, Is a lion among movers and shakers: Defying dire prophecies, He’s cleared out the offices: Even punch girls are now order takers.

Does anybody (apart from Don Mitchell) even remember punch girls these days? IBM certainly does, and we’d be surprised if the company didn’t find a few superannuated ones lying around when it decided to put most of its overheads back on the road. A key feature of the computerick – or any limerick for that matter, is that it enjoys the sound of its own voice, and the next example clearly wrote itself as soon as the author realised that Olivetti rhymed with de Benedetti:

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The fall-off in sales at Olivetti Fails to ruffle chairman Carlo de Bendetti: His array of investables Embraces comestibles And Italians never tire of spaghetti.

Another regular feature of the computerick is a fascination with regional and national characteristics – demonstrated not only in the previous example but equally in the following one, which links a quaint Texan custom with the fact that Compaq, Tandy and Dell are all Texas companies:

From the Texans a loud rebel yell Greeted PS/2’s launch, truth to tell, It faces a dandy Fight from Compaq and Tandy And a helluva ding-dong with Dell.

An irritating sub-form of the genre is the lecturing limerick that perverts the purity of the form by seeking to preach a message. The following commentary on the state of the world’s stock markets is a good example, and is also noteworthy for the controversial message it purports to deliver:

Black Monday was awesome and how, But don’t fall for the calmer tone now: Stay liquid you yuppies And other young puppies, Till we’ve seen 1400 on the Dow.

Much more congenial is the computerick that seeks to deliver nothing more than good, honest, simple fun – and if it relys on a pun, so much the better:

Our postbag each morning is full Of missives from Portsmouth and Poole, Superlatives and lunacies From DEC, Hewp and Unisys, And pages of Honeywell Bull.

There are few restrictions on the number of syllables in each line of a computerick, and feminine endings – nothing to do with s*x, they’re unstressed syllables at the end of a line of verse – are quite acceptable, as are double ones, as in this next example. It is however decidedly risky to attempt to depart too far from the strict standard form of the five lines, three long, two short in the middle, but occasionally it can be effective:

For Fritz and his freunds there’s no gutergram, And Down Under, for Bruce there’s no beautergram,Male, female or neutergram, Yanks know of no cutergram,

But to the sorters at Mount Pleasant, who aren’t very strong on scansion, it’s just bagsfull of those damn yellow things and as far as they’re concerned, the guy who brings them

in each evening wants a punch up the hootergram.

Of course some computericks are characterised as such not because of their content, but because they look as if they were written by a computer. We affirm that this last item not only looks as if it was written by a computer, it was.

The end of December is near: At this season of mirth and good cheer, We wish all imbibers And other subscribers Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

So there you have it. Another characteristic of computericks is that they are frequently – well, smutty, and a large section of this dissertation had with reluctance to be omitted as unsuitable for inclusion in a family newspaper. But don’t let that deter you: for this year’s Competitiongram we want you to write one or more computericks and send them with your name and address to Computerick Competitiongram, Apt Data Services, 12, Sutton Row, W1V 5FH. We’ll print the best printable ones, and there’s a UKP15 record token for the sender of the one that makes the editor laugh loudest and longest.

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