cler·​i·​hew ˈkler-i-ˌhyü How to pronounce clerihew (audio)
: a light verse quatrain rhyming aabb and usually dealing with a person named in the initial rhyme

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Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) was an English writer whose book Biography for Beginners was published in 1906 under the name E. Clerihew. It was a collection of simple, humorous four-line verses about famous people. Bentley had begun writing them as a bored high school student. He didn't call them clerihews himself, but his readers began to do so after the book appeared. How soon after, we can't be sure, because so far we've unearthed nothing earlier than a 1914 description of clerihews as "epigram[s] in hartogs, which are, of course, one’s oldest and most comfortable clothes." In any case, people have been having fun writing their own clerihews ever since Bentley shared his.

Examples of clerihew in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Edited by Dava Sobel NOTE: A clerihew is a four-line poetic format invented in 1905 by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, who wrote humorous rhymes about all manner of persons, making frivolous fun of their names. Melissa Dehner, Scientific American, 26 Mar. 2021 Easy to write and fun to read, entrants were asked to write a clerihew that describes a famous scientist or other person, or event closely associated with fire. William Gurstelle, WIRED, 16 Aug. 2011

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'clerihew.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Edmund Clerihew Bentley †1956 English writer

First Known Use

1928, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of clerihew was in 1928


Dictionary Entries Near clerihew

Cite this Entry

“Clerihew.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2024.

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