Balliol rhyme

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A Balliol rhyme is a doggerel verse form with a distinctive meter. They are quatrains consisting of two pairs of rhyming couplets, each line having four beats. The first couplet contains the name of a particular individual, and the second couplet usually elaborates on that person's character or exploits or weakness.

The form is associated with Balliol College, Oxford.[1][2] It originated with "The Masque of B-ll--l", published anonymously by a group of Balliol undergraduates in 1875. The verses were inspired by the conventions of traditional mummers plays (at their peak of popularity in the late 19th century), in which the dialogue took the form of simple verses, and in which characters introduced themselves on first entrance with some such formula as: "Here comes I a Turkish Knight / Come from the Turkish land to fight".[3]

Balliol rhymes are almost always about a person. They are not to be confused with Clerihews.


About Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol (from "The Masque of B-ll--l"):

First come I. My name is J-w-tt.
There's no knowledge but I know it.
I am Master of this College,
What I don't know isn't knowledge.

About George Nathaniel Curzon:

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim twice a week.

About the building of the Athenaeum Club (it does not follow the AABB rhyme scheme):

I'm John Wilson Croker,
I do as I please;
Instead of an Ice House
I give you - a frieze!


  1. The Balliol College Annual Record 2002, pp.30
  2. The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse
  3. Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts, compiled by Peter Millington.


  • Hiscock, Walter George, ed. (1939). The Balliol Rhymes. Oxford: Blackwell.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Venn, J.A.; Bailey, Cyril (30 August 1954). "Balliol Rhymes [Letters to the Editor]". The Times. p. 7. Retrieved 17 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription required)

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