Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Meanings Behind the Nursery Rhymes TT #40


This week’s TT is based on a book I’m currently reading. Heavy Words Lightly Thrown by Chris Roberts is about the meanings behind the old nursery rhymes that we’re all familiar with.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far, there’s been many interesting revelations and I just had to share.

So this week’s TT is Meanings Behind the Nursery Rhymes:


  1. Humpty Dumpty: Humpty Dumpty was actually a cannon, which broke apart and couldn’t be fixed by the king’s men. What I find funny is why everyone thinks it’s about an egg, when the rhyme doesn’t mention an egg at all.
  2. Little Jack Horner: Apparently, “Jack” Horner was a steward to an abbot, who stuck his thumb into a piece of very lucrative pie, figuratively speaking, and pulled out a plum in the form of a title deed to a manor house.
  3. Jack Be Nimble: Jumping over the candlestick without the flame going out is supposed to be a form of pagan sport which foretells good luck, fertility, and a prosperous year, depending on the results of the jump.
  4. Sing a Song of Sixpence: Most probably about King Henry VIII and two of his six wives; Catherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn, who is the maid that got her nose snipped off (beheaded).

  5. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary: There’s a debate on whether the “Mary” in the rhyme is referring to Mary Queen of Scots or Mary Tudor, but if it’s Mary Queen of Scots, then the cockle-shells in the rhyme apparently refers to the cuckolds in her promiscuous court.
  6. Baa, Baa, Black Sheep: One of the more straightforward rhymes if you’re looking for its hidden meaning, it’s quite obvious that it’s a complaint about taxes.
  7. Ladybird, Ladybird: It seems that back in the days, it was popular to get rid of a witch in central Europe by telling her that her house was on fire. The rhyme may be a reference to that.
  8. Georgy Porgy: There are a few theories to this rhyme, one of them is that it’s about George Villiers, who might have been King James I’s lover. The part about kissing the girls and making them cry is supposed to be about George ruining the King’s relationship with various women.
  9. Rock a Bye, Baby: Of unclear origins, there are many theories to this rhyme ranging from it being a reference to baby Moses, to being about new Pilgrim settlers who used to suspend their cradles on trees.
  10. Ding Dong Bell, Pussy’s in the Well: Surprisingly, this may be one of the more literal rhymes where the moral of the story is meant for children, teaching them not to be cruel to cats.
  11. Jack and Jill: Very possibly about sex, going “up the hill to fetch a pail of water” may have been an euphemism for having sex, and “losing your crown” means losing your virginity.
  12. Ring-a-Ring o’Roses: The most popular theory is that it’s about the Black Death, but another theory is that it’s actually about a children’s game that allowed young people to get around prohibitions on dancing.
  13. Old King Cole: Two interesting theories with the pipe and the bowl; Old King Cole either really liked smoking cannabis, or the pipe referred to some kind of wind instrument, and the bowl was a kind of drum, and Old King Cole really liked music, especially with his fiddlers three.

I’m still reading the book and having lots of fun with it. I hope you enjoyed this week’s TT!


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