There once was a man from Nantucket

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"There once was a man from Nantucket" is the opening line for many limericks, in which the name of the island of Nantucket creates rhymes and puns, often obscene. The protagonist in the obscene versions is typically portrayed as well-endowed and hypersexualized.

The opening line is so well known that it, alone, has been used as a stand-alone joke, implying upcoming obscenities.


The earliest published version appeared in 1902 in the Princeton Tiger written by Prof. Dayton Voorhees:[1][2][3]

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
    But his daughter, named Nan,
    Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Other publications seized upon the "Nantucket" motif, spawning many sequels[4][5]

Among the most well known are:

But he followed the pair to Pawtucket,
The man and the girl with the bucket;
    And he said to the man,
    He was welcome to Nan,
But as for the bucket, Pawtucket.

Followed later by:

Then the pair followed Pa to Manhasset,
Where he still held the cash as an asset,
    But Nan and the man
    Stole the money and ran,
And as for the bucket, Manhasset.

Ribald versions[edit]

The many ribald versions of the limerick are the basis for its lasting popularity. Many variations on the theme are possible because of the ease of rhyming Nantucket with certain vulgar phrases. The following example comes from Immortalia: An Anthology of American Ballads, Sailors' Songs, Cowboy Songs, College Songs, Parodies, Limericks, and Other Humorous Verses and Doggerel, published in 1927.[6]

There was a young man from Nantucket
Whose dick was so long he could suck it.
    He said with a grin
    As he wiped off his chin,
"If my ear was a cunt I would fuck it."

In popular culture[edit]

The poem has become a staple of American humor, both as an iconic example of dirty poetry and as a joking example of fine art, whose vulgarity and simple form provide a surprise contrast to an expected refinement.

  • In Woody Allen's 1966 film What's Up, Tiger Lily?, the protagonist Phil Moskowitz reads the opening line of "ancient erotic poetry": "There once was a man from Nantucket".
  • The animated sitcom The Simpsons makes numerous references to the limerick, such as in "Deep Space Homer" where Homer tries to do a cartwheel while saying the limerick, but gets hit by a wall before being able to finish it, and in "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo",[7] where Homer comments that he "once knew a man from Nantucket" but "the stories about him are greatly exaggerated".
  • Garrison Keillor quoted the first line to quite some laughs during his very last episode of 42 years of hosting the radio show A Prairie Home Companion.[8]
  • On Gilmore Girls season 3, episode 8, Lorelai Gilmore jokes about carving something dirty into a bathroom wall on a tour of Yale, saying, "What rhymes with Nantucket?"
  • In the Animaniacs direct-to-video film, Wakko's Wish, while Yakko was putting Dot to bed, she asks him to tell her "the story", and Yakko starts off saying "There once was a man from Nantucket", but Dot tells him that wasn't the story she was talking about.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Squidward's School for Grown-Ups", SpongeBob, impersonating an opera singer, begins his act by producing a sheet of paper and reading "There once was a man from Nantucket" before realizing he has the wrong sheet in front of him.


  1. ^ "Nan's Adventures Up to Date". Life. Vol. 41. March 26, 1903. p. 274. Retrieved March 6, 2012 – via Google Books. 
  2. ^ In transit. Vol. 11 no. 2. p. 18.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Princeton Tiger. November 1902. p. 59.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  4. ^ Baring-Gould, William S. The Lure of the Limerick. p. 246. ISBN 0-517-53856-3. [full citation needed]
  5. ^ Adams, Cecil (March 8, 1985). "How does the limerick 'There was an old man of Nantucket ...' conclude?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved March 6, 2012. 
  6. ^ Anonymous. Immortalia: An Anthology of American Ballads, Sailors' Songs, Cowboy Songs, College Songs, Parodies, Limericks, and Other Humorous Verses and Doggerel. Library of Alexandria. Limericks XXI. ISBN 978-1-4655-3313-5. 
  7. ^ "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo". May 16, 1999 – via IMDb. 
  8. ^ McNary, Dave (July 2, 2016). "Garrison Keillor Says Goodbye to A Prairie Home Companion at the Hollywood Bowl". Variety. 

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