The latest challenge asked for poems about euphemisms. You avoided politics and sex (mostly), preferring, like Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch, to focus on the language of dying and the words and expressions we call on to avoid the D-word. And there are plenty of them — David Crystal has written that there are more than 1,000 words for death categorised in the Historical Thesaurus.
I much admired Alanna Blake’s twist on Keats’s sonnet (‘Much have I dabbled in linguistic lore/ And many inexactitudes have used…’) and Max Ross’s neat acrostic. Hamish Wilson, Max Gutmann, Ann Drysdale and David Silverman also deserve a special mention. The prizewinners printed below earn £30 each. The extra fiver belongs to Bill Greenwell.
‘Fair maiden, may I introduce my fritz,
My percy, and my python, also peg?
It’s from my nether regions’ naughty bits:
My trouser snake, my meat and middle leg.
‘I haven’t got a wrinkle in my winkle,
My johnson, rod and pole, my horse and hose —
My harry likes to have a little tinkle,
Or hang out with my other down-belows.
‘Do talk to him, my cecil and my pecker,
And tell him he’s your favourite tom and dick,
My Black and Decker, oh my Boris Becker —
My well-hung whatsit and my Hampton Wick!’
‘Be candid, sir — to what do you allude?
Why must you all decorum so defy?’
‘Oh miss, I couldn’t. Not that I’m a prude —
It’s simply, to be frank, I’m far too shy.’
Because I would not speak of Death
I thought he would not call —
That hearing words of gentler worth
His interest would pall.
But he popped up and tipped his hat
And said, ‘I’m here at last —
I’d stopped to pay my due respects
To one you’d say had passed.’
Then he spoke of farms that he’d bought —
Of clogs that he’d seen popped —
And I joined in with buckets kicked —
The laughter barely stopped.
We passed the time so carelessly
On those that we had lost —
That I had scarcely time to see —
That over I had crossed.
To make his doting parents proud
Augustus, at a young age, vowed
He would on no account be heard
To say a plain four-letter word:
His derrière was what he’d use
For passing wind or number twos,
Whilst sounding just the opening p
For what he also called a wee.
But fate is curt with any aims
That facts are changed with fancy names:
One day Augustus tripped and fell
Arse over tip inside a well;
In mortal peril, but still pukka,
He cried not common ‘Help!’ but ‘Succour!’
In vain, alas. He’d kept his pride
But lost his life. In short, he died.
I had to take a business trip; I asked my younger
To feed my cat while I was gone, and keep an
eye on Mother.
I phoned him from the boarding-house where I
was lodged and fed.
‘And how’s my little Fluffikins?’ I asked him.
‘Oh, she’s dead.’
‘What! Fluffikins? My pride and joy? My lovely
My God! You callous brute! How could you
break the news like that?’
‘But facts are facts, old chap. It happened. What
else could I say?’
‘You could have eked the story out, a little every
You might have said, ‘She’s run outside, and
jumped up on the roof…
I’ve done my best to coax her down, but she
I’ve offered tempting morsels… now the rain is
She’s slipped and fallen off…I’m giving mouth
to-mouth… she’s gone.’
A gentler way to tell me it had stopped, her little
‘I take your point, old fellow — rather tactless
on my part.’
‘Well, try to be more thoughtful, John,’ I said
with stern reproof.
‘Now, how is Mother?’ ‘Ah…’ He cleared his
throat. ‘She’s on the roof.’
Death calls them out — so many ways of saying
and softening the bluntness of our end.
He’s ‘met his maker’, ‘sleeping’, ‘now past
‘pushing up daisies’, ‘met the old man’s friend’.
Or he could be ‘at peace’, he’s ‘breathed his last’.
He’s ‘done for’, ‘fallen from his perch’, ‘at rest’,
‘joined the majority’, he’s ‘snuffed it’, ‘passed’,
‘tuned up his toes’, ‘departed’, ‘with the blessed’.
Poets are just as bad — they temporise,
looking to find new ways to wrap death up.
There’s ‘that good night’, ‘the bourne from
which…’ all tries
at sweetening the taste of death’s sour cup.
I wonder why we gulp and catch our breath
at simple words, why literary tricks
are how we fumble the small change of death
while Charon ferries us across the Styx.
You are invited to take an existing word and alter it by a) adding a letter; b) changing a letter; and c) deleting a letter; and to supply definitions for all three new words. Please revert to the original word at each stage of the exercise. Email entries totalling up to 150 words to email@example.com by midday on 9 May.