18 Rhymes From Your Childhood You Were Too Young to Understand

May 5, 2017

1. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are!
The original lyrics of this rhyme was in French and told of a young girl tormented by love. A very sad something, not the starry, hopeful tune we constantly recited.

2. Rock a Bye Baby

Rock a bye baby, on the tree top. When the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks the cradle will fall. And down will come baby, cradle and all.
Even the lyrics alone are enough to make you wonder what you were saying as a child. This rhyme is basically predicting future harm about to befall a child. The unofficial history of the rhyme says that it was written by a pilgrim who had observed Native-American baby cradles hanging from the branches of trees, swaying children to sleep…and possibly to their deaths.

3. Three Blind Mice

Three blind mice. Three blind mice. See how they run. See how they run. They all ran after the farmer’s wife. Who cut off their tails with a carving knife. Did you ever see such a sight in your life. As three blind mice.
Now this one is just painful to read, even without knowing the origins of the rhyme. It is believed that the earlier version written by English composer, Thomas Ravenscroft, referred to Mary I of England (“Bloody Mary”) and her execution of the Protestant martyrs, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cramner, in 1555. Have you ever heard a more violent rhyme?

4. Row Row Row Your Boat

Row row row your boat. Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.

This rhyme is as easygoing as it sounds. It really just reminds everyone to take life easier and one “row” at a time. Not such a bad lesson for a child, especially when compared with the other rhymes people were singing for us as children.

5. Pop! Goes The Weasel

All around the mulberry bush. The monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought ’twas all in good sport. Pop! Goes the weasel. A penny for a spool of thread. A penny for a needle. That’s the way the money goes. Pop! Goes the weasel.
No, Pop! Isn’t the sound a weasel makes. It’s an old English slang that means to pawn something (that is, sell it at a pawn shop) while “weasel” translates to “coat”. And the rhyme is about how no matter how poor a London man was in those days, he was expected to own a suit in order to dress nicely on Sunday. So he would pawn the suit (“Pop goes the weasel”) on Monday and then purchase it back before Sunday. A very silly tradition if you ask me but we sang it with so much excitement! Using our fingers to do the “Pop! Goes the weasel!” so it’ll sound very well. SMH.

6. Goosey Goosey Gander

Goosey Goosey Gander, whither shall I wander? Upstairs and downstairs and in my Lady’s chamber. There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers. So I took him by his left leg and threw him down the stairs.
Another violent poem about how back in 16th century Europe, most people were busy either fighting off plagues or killing off Catholics. Priests were persecuted for saying their prayers in Latin instead of English and so had to pray, because if they were caught, they would be given a very swift and very painful punishment of being hurled down the stairs. Ouch!

7. Mary Mary Quite Contrary

Mary Mary quite contrary. How does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockleshells. And pretty maids all in a row.
This is another poem that alludes to the Catholic Queen “Bloody” Mary, her “garden” is a graveyard of martyred protestants, the silver bells and cockleshells were her instruments of torture, and the pretty maids referred to The Maiden, an English version of the guillotine. What was wrong with these British people?

8. Ring Around the Rosy

Ring around the rosy. A pocket full of posies. Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down!
This one will make you want to cry. The rhyme alludes to the Black Plague that nearly wiped out all of Europe. The “ring around the rosy” refers to the red blotches caused by the plague. The “pocket full of posies” refers to the packets of herbs used to fight the infection, “ashes” refers to the cremation of the dead and “all fall down” refers to the fact that the plague affected both the rich and poor. Side note fellow Nigerians, it is “Ashes” o, not “a-ti-shoo!” You’re not sneezing.

9. Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary had a little lamb. Little lamb, little lamb. Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow…
This rhyme might actually be the only rhyme based on a real occurrence. A real girl named Mary did take her lamb to school and naturally a raucous ensued. The first lines were written by visiting Harvard University student, John Roulstone who had seen what happened, and the rest – quite literally – is history.

10. Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men. Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Wait first. You might have been thinking, ” wetin Humpty Dumpty go find for wall sef?” But before you judge, you have to know that the real Humpty Dumpty wasn’t really a person but a massive siege cannon used by the British Royal Forces during the English Civil War. It fell, the soldiers could not use it again and they all died because they could not defend themselves. So, well, maybe there were people that died in the end sha.

11. Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

Here we go round the mulberry bush. The mulberry bush. The mulberry bush. Here we go round the mulberry bush. On a cold and frosty morning. This is the way we wash our clothes. We wash our clothes, we wash our clothes. This is the way we wash our clothes. On a cold and frosty morning…
You know how they say sagging originated from prison, well, this rhyme legit originated from prison too. Female prisoners in England’s Wakefield Prison would exercise round a mulberry tree. So every time you sang it…hehehe…

12. London Bridge Is Falling Down

London Bridge is falling down. Falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down. My fair lady.
There are a couple of meanings to this rhyme. But the most common one and the one that will definitely leave you shook is the one that connects the bridge in the rhyme with the practice of “immurement“. Which is something they used to do in the past where they’d put someone in a structure and seal it off so that they’d just die of hunger and thirst. This human sacrifice is believed to make the structure strong and last longer and it is believed they did that to little children under the London Bridge. Like, WTH! And they’ll tell you oyinbo no dey do witchcraft, IFIH! But that’s not the freakiest part, you know how as kids we would sing the song and take turns moving under an “arch” that we formed? That was us legit practicing ritual sacrifice without knowing. Mind sufficiently blown? Yeah…I thought so.

13. The Old Lady Who Lived In A Shoe

There was an old woman. Who lived in a shoe. She had so many children. She didn’t know what to do. She gave them some broth. Without any bread. And whipped them all soundly. And sent them to bed.
The origin of this rhyme is sorta shrouded in mystery and some theories say it has some allusion to the British monarchy – because English people are very full of themselves and everything has to be about them – but just think about the rhyme for a minute. Why so much violence woman? I think maybe there was recession and the woman was just tired.

14. This Old Man

This old man, he played one. He played knick-knack on my thumb. With a knick-knack, paddy whack. Give a dog a bone. This old man came rolling home…
The origin of this rhyme suggests some unfair treatment of the Irish by the English. Historically, these neighbors weren’t really best of friends and if the Irish were indeed treated poorly and then sent “rolling home” like the rhyme suggests, then it is no wonder.

15. Baa Baa Black Sheep

Baa Baa Black Sheep. Have you any wool? Yes, sir, yes, sir. Three bags full. One for the master. One for the dame. And one for the little boy. Who lives down the lane.
This rhyme is really all about wool but the earlier version has one difference. Where there is now “one” there used to be “none”. At that time, the farmers were so heavily taxed that after giving one-third to the king and one-third to the church, there was nothing left for the poor farmer. AYA…

16. Jack And Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill. To fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown. And Jill came tumbling after.
Guys!! Jack and Jill really did climb that hill for more than just a pail of water. But it’s a very tragic story really. According to these guys, Jack and Jill were a young unmarried couple who used to climb the hill for some “rock climbing and chill” so that no one will catch them. That was how Jill carry belle but just before she gave birth, Jack was killed by a rock that had fallen from their ‘chilling’ hill. A few days later, Jill died while giving birth to their love child. That story is too sad. It’s not even fair.

17. Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eeny meeny miny mo.
This rhyme is just racist. Well, at least it was before they changed the “nigger” that was there to “tiger”, because really, why would you even think to catch a tiger by its toe?

18. Old Roger Is Dead

Old Roger is dead and gone to his grave, H’m ha ! gone to his grave. They planted an apple tree over his head, H’m ha! over his head. The apples were ripe and ready to fall, H’m ha ! ready to fall. There came an old woman and picked them all up, H’m ha! picked them all up. Old Roger jumped up and gave her a knock, H’m ha! gave her a knock. Which made the old woman go hippity hop, H’m ha! hippity hop!
This rhyme will leave you with more questions than answers. Why did Roger die? Why did they plant the apple tree over his head? Why did Old Roger give the woman a knock? And why did the woman hop? Was it not her head and not her leg that they knocked? Why? WHY? WHY?!!! Too many questions that probably weren’t passing through your mind as a child.

Knowing all you now know about these rhymes, would you teach them to your children?

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