There once was a man from Nantucket
"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 a 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 or taboo language.
The earliest published version appeared in 1902 in the Princeton Tiger - written by Prof. Dayton Voorhees:
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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 could fuck it."
In popular culture
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.
A few examples: 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 "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo", 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 show of 42 years of "A Prairie Home Companion".
- Life, Volume 41, page 274. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
- In transit, Volume 11, Issue 2, page 18
- Princeton Tiger, November 1902, page 59
- Baring-Gould, William S. The Lure of the Limerick. p. 246. ISBN 0-517-53856-3.
- Cecil Adams (1985-03-08). "How does the limerick "There was an old man of Nantucket ..." conclude?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
- 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.
- Yesterday's Island "Limerick Challenge"
- Little Blue Book, number 1018. "A Book of Humorous Limericks". pp. 40–41