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Regulation Limericks

Move over, Martha Stewart. The United States Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Ky. *, has authored a “Dining-In and Dining-Out Handbook.” A “dining-in” refers not to an ordinary mess-hall meal but rather to a formal event featuring a guest speaker where soldiers are expected to wear black tie—no clip-ons allowed!—and are invited to offer toasts and exchange witticisms. A dining-out is a less formal variation on a dining-in to which soldiers are encouraged to bring spouses or dates. As the name implies, a dining-out is sometimes (though not always) held off-base. **

The Army, which never leaves anything to chance (except trivial matters like the occupation of Iraq), includes in its instructions, last updated in May 1994, specificatons for the invitations (“always worded in the third person” and “printed or written with black ink”), the receiving line (“the method preferred is from right to left”), and even the pre-dinner cocktail chatter ("conversation should be light and of short duration”). But the most intriguing instructions concern the recitation of limericks, apparently a poetic form much favored at “dining-ins” and “dining-outs.” What follows is, in effect, the Army’s regulation on the composition and presentation of limericks. To read the entire handbook—which came to me via Washington-area researcher Michael Ravnitzky—click here. To read footnotes to the text below, roll your mouse over the portions highlighted in yellow.

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Corrections, May 22, 2006:
*An earlier version of this column erroneously placed Fort Knox in Tennessee.

**An earlier version of this column stated incorrectly that dining-outs are always held off-base. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.