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What is Doggerel?

Doggerel is sometimes used in graffiti.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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Doggerel is a form of crude, often awkwardly composed verse which is generally viewed to be of little to no literary value. Despite the fact that people tend to look down their noses at doggerel, this style of verse is quite ancient, suggesting that humans may be more fond of it than they wish to admit. Numerous examples of doggerel can be found in popular culture, and in some cases especially notable verses are recorded for posterity, in some cases in the form of graffiti and similar modes of expression.

The word “doggerel” comes from the Middle English dogge, which means “dog.” For those feeling charitable towards canids, one could consider doggerel a form of puppyish, clumsy verse marked by a childish attitude. However, it is far more likely that the term evolved as an insult, meant to emphasize the worthlessness of the verse in question, as “dog” has historically been used as an insult.

Doggerel is usually intended to be humorous, and it may be graphic or crude, as well. Some similarities can be seen between doggerel and limerick, but doggerel tends to have rhymes which are more forced and monotonous, whereas a good limerick can be quite lighthearted and sometimes extremely witty. Doggerel is often used as a form to compose mocking or joke poems, and some very well known poets have produced pieces of doggerel as a joke, essentially mocking themselves and the literary world.

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Because doggerel is perceived to be of low value, it is rarely collected. Doggerel makes its way into print when it is produced by someone notable, or it strikes someone as particularly amusing, talented, or witty. Sometimes doggerel appears in fiction, with one of the characters spouting a few lines of doggerel as a rash declaration of love or some other emotion, and some greeting cards have brief verses which border on the verge of being considered doggerel.

Some doggerel is utter nonsense verse, with made-up words or grossly mis-used words. In these instances, the nonsense words are used to establish a clear and simple rhythm, interspersed with lines or words which are comprehensible. Some such verses evolve into nursery rhymes, another form of verse which is not noted for its elegant rhyming schemes or witty logic.

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