AskDefine | Define clerihew

Dictionary Definition

clerihew n : a witty satiric verse containing two rhymed couplets and mentioning a famous person; "`The president is George W. Bush, Who is happy to sit on his tush, While sending his armies to fight, For anything he thinks is right' is a clerihew"

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Alternative spellings


Named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley


  1. A rhyme of four lines, usually regarding a person mentioned in the first line.
    The clerihew, as you can see,
    is shorter than it ought to be,
    with just four lines I’m s’posed to tell,
    what it’s all about...oh well.


a rhyme of four lines

See also

Extensive Definition

A Clerihew (or clerihew) is a very specific kind of short biographical humorous verse.

Structure and style

A Clerihew has the following properties:
  • It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it pokes fun at mostly famous people
  • It has four lines of irregular length (for comic effect); the third and fourth lines are usually longer than the first two
  • The rhyme structure is AABB; the subject matter and wording are often humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme
  • The first line consists solely (or almost solely) of the subject's name.
Clerihews are not satirical or abusive, but they target famous individuals and reposition them in an absurd or commonplace setting, often with an over-simplified and slightly garbled description (similar to the schoolboy style of 1066 and All That).
The unbalanced and unpolished poetic meter and line length parody the limerick, and the clerihew form also parodies the elegy.


The form was invented by and is named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley. As a 16-year-old student at St Paul's School in London, Bentley invented the clerihew on Humphry Davy (see below) when the lines came to his mind during a science class, and it was a great hit with his friends. The first use of the word in print was in 1928. Clerihew published three volumes of his own clerihews, including Biography for Beginners (1905), which was published under the name "E. Clerihew". and it remains a popular humorous form among other writers and the general public.


The first ever Clerihew was written about Sir Humphry Davy:
Sir Humphry Davy
Was not fond of gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
When this Clerihew was published in 1905, "Was not fond of" was replaced by "Abominated".
Other classic Clerihews included:
Daniel Defoe
Lived a long time ago.
He had nothing to do, so
He wrote Robinson Crusoe.
George the Third
Ought never to have occurred.
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder.
John Stuart Mill,
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote Principles of Political Economy.
Edgar Allan Poe
Was passionately fond of roe.
He always liked to chew some,
While writing anything gruesome.
"No, Sir," said General Sherman,
"I did not enjoy the sermon;
Nor I didn't git any
Kick outer the litany."
Sir Christopher Wren
Said "I am going to dine with some men.
"If anybody calls,
"Say I am designing St Paul's."
Sir James Dewar
Is better than you are
None of you asses
Can liquefy gasses!
Edmund Clerihew Bentley,
Was evidently
A man
Who couldn't get his poems to scan.
In 1983, Games Magazine ran a contest titled "Do You Clerihew?" The winning entry was:
Did Descartes Depart With the thought "Therefore I'm not"?
Among the runners-up were:
Mrs. Steve Lawrence Has an abhorrence For junk food-you might say She's a gourmet.
Labor Leader Jimmy Hoffa Apparently refused an unrefuseable offer It is widely feared That he just disappeared

See also

Double dactyl


  • Teague, Frances. "Clerihew" in Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan, eds., The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. 219-220.
clerihew in German: Clerihew
clerihew in Japanese: クレリヒュー
clerihew in Dutch: Clerihew
clerihew in Chinese: 克萊里休詩
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