“Doggerel” is poetry irregular in rhythm and in rhyme, often deliberately for comic effect. Alternatively, it can mean verse which has a monotonous rhythm, easy rhyme, and trivial meaning. The word is derived from the Middle English dogerel, meaning nonsense and probably related to the idea of something only fit for a dog. In English it has been used as an adjective since the 1300s and a noun since at least 1630. Appearing since ancient times in the literatures of many cultures, it is characteristic of nursery rhymes and children’s song.

Doggerel is sometimes written as a parody of some more serious poem. Referring to a literary work as doggerel is generally an insult. Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Thopas is written in this format. It irritates the Host of The Tabard so much that he interrupts him and makes him tell a different tale.

The Scottish poet William McGonagall (1825-1902) has become famous for his doggerel, which many remember with affection despite its seeming technical flaws, as in his poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster”:

Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv’ry Tay,
I now must conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way, 
At least many sensible men do say, 
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses, 
At least many sensible men confesses, 
For the stronger we our houses do build, 
The less chance we have of being killed.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) made a virtue of writing what appears to be doggerel but is actually clever and entertaining despite its apparent technical faults.

Hip hop lyrics have also explored the artful possibilities of doggerel.

I wrote doggerel as a kid, but never wrote anything, ever, so awful as that written by William McDonagall.

  One thought on “doggerel

  1. October 10, 2021 at 9:03 pm

    You must admit, it’s pretty hard to work “buttresses” into verse!

    Liked by 1 person

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