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According to the English Language Wikipedia page on Cirencester, Cirencester has many pronunciations. From Wikipedia:

The form /ˈsɪsɪtər/, spelled Cirencester or Ciceter, was once used locally. This pronunciation is humorously highlighted in a 1928 limerick from Punch:

There was a young lady of Cirencester
Whose fiancé went down to virencester
    By the great Western line,
    Which he swore was divine,
And he couldn't have been much explirencester.

I don't understand the humour in this limerick. I think the words virencester and explirencester do not exist. But are they variations of existing words? Where is the humour in this?

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    Could you explain how this has to do with learning English? It might be better to ask this on ELU SE or Literature SE. – user3169 Jun 16 '18 at 22:36
  • @user3169 I thought it may be obvious to a native speaker but non-obvious to a non-native speaker like me. I'm happy to have it migrated to either site. – gerrit Jun 17 '18 at 9:38
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You're right. Those two words don't exist. They're plays on the reading of Cirencester. Your example is roughly

There was a young lady of /ˈsɪsɪtər/
Whose fiancé went down to /ˈvɪz·ɪtər/
     By the Great Western line,
     Which he swore was divine,
And he couldn't have been much /ɪkˈsplɪs.ɪtər/.
There was a young lady of Cirencester
Whose fiancé went down to visiter (= visit 'er, visit her)
     By the Great Western line,
     Which he swore was divine,
And he couldn't have been much expliciter. (= more explicit)

I interpret the final line to mean that he told a such a sexually explicit story about his visit with the young lady, that there couldn't have been a more explicit story. Of course, this is exaggeration. Therein lies the humor.

EDIT: According to @JamesK, the last would mean "he was very clear about how good the GWR was". I assumed there was a dirty angle.

  • Strictly it's the Great Western line (capital G, capital W). Also, I don't think all limericks are necessarily a "play" on There once was a man from Nantucket. – Michael Harvey Jun 16 '18 at 23:27
  • The last line would just mean "he was very clear about how good the GWR was". The euphemism is unrecorded before the 1970s – James K Jun 17 '18 at 8:44
  • There was a young lady called Horton/ Who had one long tit and one short 'un/ What's more than that,/ She had a big hairy prat/ And a fart like a six-fifty Norton. NB they were prats more often than they were twats in 1962. – Michael Harvey Jun 17 '18 at 9:00
  • It's true that limericks are not necessarily obscene, but that's the way it seems to go. Sometimes, of course, that's a starting point. "There was a young girl from Madras/Who had a magnificent ass./ It was not, as you think/ Round, firm and pink,/ It was grey, had long ears and ate grass." – WhatRoughBeast Jun 17 '18 at 19:18

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