Originally Published: December 30, 2017 6:01 a.m.
One man’s joke has become his mission: to give each word a rhyming definition.
Chris Strolin was teasing English buffs in an online forum years ago when he said the dictionary should be rewritten in the singsong rhyme scheme of limericks. He ended up embracing the absurd bravado of his own wisecrack and decided to try it for real.
He started with the word “a″ —“It’s used with a noun to convey/ A singular notion/ Like ‘a duck’ or ‘a potion’” — and kept going. More than 1,000 contributors have joined him, off and on, over the years.
The Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form (or OEDILF for short) has published more than 97,000 rhyming definitions since Strolin started it in 2004. The retired Air Force radio operator from Belleville, Illinois, says his project is on track to publish its 100,000th limerick in the coming year.
He hopes his grandchildren — or perhaps their kids — will finish the job decades from now.
The online wisecrack that led to the OEDILF’s origin was a teasing swipe Strolin made at the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, which defines 600,000 words across 20 printed volumes. Strolin remarked that the Oxford dictionary was good, but needed improvement. His not-so-serious solution: limericks.
“The more I got to thinking about it, it sounded like a good idea,” Strolin said. “The limerick is probably the most reader friendly of all types of poetry. It’s also one of the easiest forms of poetry to write.”
Perhaps not so easy: Writing a limerick that weaves a joke into an accurate explanation of word’s meaning. Take contributor Bill Middleton’s definition of “adult”:
“As a kid, I was wild and a clown.
As a teen, I would dash about town.
Now adult, I shall go
Very cautious and slow.
Goes to prove: what grows up must calm down.”
The definitions run the gamut from the unwieldy adjective “aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic” — coined centuries ago to describe the spa waters of Bath, England — to terms that didn’t exist until recently.
When President Donald Trump created a new word this year with a head-scratching Twitter typo, four OEDILF writers churned out limericks. “Inscrutably tweeted/ A word? Uncompleted?/ The absurd so-called word was covfefe.”
To break a huge job into manageable chunks, Strolin has writers tackle the language in alphabetical order. The online dictionary currently stops in the Gs at “gizzard.”