Metrical feet
˘ ˘ pyrrhus, dibrach
˘ ¯ iamb
¯ ˘ trochee, choree
¯ ¯ spondee
˘ ˘ ˘ tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘ dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘ amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯ anapest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯ bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘ antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯ cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯ molossus
Number of feet per line
one Monometer
two Dimeter
three Trimeter
four Tetrameter
five Pentameter
six Hexameter
seven Heptameter
eight Octameter
See main article for tetrasyllables.
v · d · e

A dactyl is a term used in English verse to describe a three-syllable metrical foot made up of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones. Matador, realize, cereal and limerick as well as the word poetry itself, are examples of words that are themselves dactyls. A double dactyl can simply mean two consecutive dactyls.

A double dactyl is also a verse form, also known as "higgledy piggledy," purportedly invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal in 1961,[1] but having a history as a parlor word game earlier in the century.


Like a limerick, it has a rigid form and is usually humorous; but the double dactyl is considerably more rigid and difficult to write. There must be two stanzas of three lines of dactylic dimeter followed by a line with a dactyl and a single accent. The two stanzas have to rhyme on their last line. The first line of the first stanza is repetitive nonsense. The second line of the first stanza is the subject of the poem, a proper noun (marked in the following examples with a single asterisk,

  • , or where not exactly a proper name with a parenthesized asterisk (*)). Note that this name must itself be double-dactylic. There is also a requirement for at least one line of the second stanza to be entirely one double dactyl word, for example "va-le-dic-tor-i-an" (marked with two asterisks,
    • ). Some purists still follow Hecht and Pascal's original rule that no single six-syllable word, once used in a double dactyl, should ever be knowingly used again.[1]


An example by John Hollander:[1]

Higgledy piggledy,
Benjamin Harrison,*
Twenty-third president
Was, and, as such,
Served between Clevelands and
Save for this trivial
Didn't do much.

An example by E. Jaksch:[2]

Gay Caius Julius.(*)
Tribune sojourning a
Long way from home,
Seeking distraction in
Earned with his service a
Province for Rome.

A double dactyl by Paul Pascal on the subject of Antony and Cleopatra:

"Patty cake, patty cake,
Marcus Antonius,*
What do you think of the
African queen?"
Duties require my
Presence in Egypt. Ya
Know what I mean?"

An example about Joe DiMaggio by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten:

Higgledy Piggledy
Joseph DiMaggio,*
Jolted the ball but was
Jilted in bed.
Marilyn walked, but he
Laid her in rose bouquets
When she was dead.

In literature, Neil Gaiman's Stardust (novel) contains a double dactyl:

Hankety pankety
Boy in a blanket, he's(*)
Off on a goose-chase to
Look for a star
Journeys through Faerie
Strip off the blanket to
See who you are.

John Bellairs' classic fantasy novel The Face in the Frost contains several double dactyls, used as nonsense magic spells, such as the following:

St. Athanasius*
Rifled through volumes in
Unseemly haste
Trying to find out if,
John of Jerusalem
Liked almond paste.

And from Wendy Cope

Emily Dickinson*
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.
Nowadays, faced with such
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.


Abbreviated Lays, a collection of double dactyl poetry about Roman History using the Latin language was written by Andres Reyes, Teacher at the famous Groton School in November 2003. He himself is a member of the form of 1980.

Double dactyl verse form is, perhaps unsurprisingly, rare in popular music. One example from this field is the song "Sam" by the Meat Puppets, which begins with the lyric: Maybe they had a/ridiculous statement/to make about something/they hadn't experienced.

A similar verse form called a McWhirtle was invented in 1989 by American poet Bruce Newling.

A related form is the double amphibrach, similar to the McWhirtle but with stricter rules more closely resembling the double dactyl.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Anthony Hecht and John Hollander, Jiggery-Pokery, A Compendium of Double Dactyls (New York: Atheneum, 1967)
  2. Article from Texas Classical Association

External links Edit

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