Macabre Mother Goose: The Dark Side of Children's Songs

by Amanda Flinner

As if we need experts to tell us nursery rhymes are downright creepy, folklorists Iona and Peter Opie confirm it in their Oxford English Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. They call the tunes, most of which made their way into print by the eighteenth century, "fragments of ballads or of folk songs, remnants of ancient custom and ritual and may hold the last echoes of long-forgotten evil." The rhymes were never actually meant for children; many were political statements, couched in enough nonsense to protect the singer from being prosecuted for treason, and set to a fun melody that was easy to remember and pass along. If children overheard, there was no real concern. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries kids were not treated like kids, but more like "adults in miniature," according to the Opies.

But as the rhymes were published for children in popular tomes like Mother Goose and Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, some adults began to fear that happy songs about murder and fatal illnesses might have a negative effect on the playground crowd.

As early as the nineteenth century, authors like Samuel Taylor and Sarah Trimmer tried to alter nursery rhymes to make them more suitable to young ears, worried the macabre nature of some songs might inspire sadistic tendencies and create a race of children akin to The Omen. But these authors didn't anticipate the internet, or public libraries for that matter.

These are some of the lyrics from nursery rhymes and other children's songs you may have forgotten, you may have never heard, or may have haunted you for years...
"Ring 'o Roses"/"Ring Around the Rosie"

A pocket full of posies
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.

Familiarly known as "Ring Around the Rosie" this nursery rhyme conjures images of laughing children dancing in a circle among scattered flower petals, not people collapsing into death after suffering a plague. But there it is. People (like us) who can't leave well enough alone have long been linking the lyrics to this otherwise sweet rhyme to symptoms of England's Great Plague or the earlier Black Death.

In 1665, the bubonic plague struck London hard, killing 20 percent of the population within a year. "Ring o' Roses" is said to indicate a rosy rash that spread across the victims' bodies, while "a pocket full of posies" was used to ward off the smell of disease. Obviously, the "ashes, ashes" that come falling down are the remnants of cremated dead bodies. Other versions replace "ashes, ashes" with sneezing ("A-tishoo! A-tishoo!), another symptom of the plague.

While it sounds like a horrifying prospect, many folklorists dismiss the idea. After all, the song was published in Kate Greenaway's 1881 edition of Mother Goose over two hundred years after the plague's reign of terror (and even longer since the Black Death of the 1300s). Also, the so-called rosy rash was only present in extreme cases of the illness. Even Snopes calls the idea preposterous. But you can't unthink it now, can you?

"Rock-a-bye Baby"

Nothing says sweet dreams like the image of a baby tumbling out of a treetop to his death among the shattered remnants of his cradle, yet the soothing lullaby has become so ingrained in our consciousness we rarely question the shocking nature of the lyrics to "Rock-a-bye Baby," originally titled "Hush-a-bye Baby."

Hush-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 fall baby
Cradle and all.

But are things really as they seem? Unfortunately, all of the theories are just that — theories. One claims that pilgrims were inspired by the Native American practice of letting their babies be gently rocked to sleep while their cradles rested on tree branches. Another points to an English family who lived in a gigantic yew tree. Then, there was also the political turmoil that surrounded the overthrow of King James II in 1688.

But an even stranger answer lies in an ominous warning alongside the first publication of the nursery rhyme in Mother Goose's Melody (1765): "This may serve as a Warning to the Proud and Ambitious, who climb so high that they may generally fall at last."

That poor baby's a goner.

"Who Killed Cock Robin?"

"Who Killed Cock Robin?" details the murder of the title character and the preparation of his funeral by his friends in the animal kingdom. The original version was printed in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book (1744) and only contained the first four verses:

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.

Thirty years later, an extended version was published to satisfy the warped little minds of children who craved the grisly details of poor Cock Robin's demise—and they were grisly:

Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.
Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.

The victim was well-mourned by his friends who carefully prepared his burial; the beetle made a shroud, the owl dug a grave, the thrush sang a psalm and so on. As for the murderous Sparrow, despite his confession, he was free to kill again until a later addition condemned him to death by hanging.

While the cruel Cock Sparrow
The cause of their grief
Was hung on a gibbet
Next day, like a thief

Still another century later, H.L. Stephens had to up the ante from disturbing to terrifying. In his Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin (1865), he illustrates the tale with a cast of characters dressed in Victorian fashions. The creepy part is they have animal heads and human bodies. The result is like some twisted collaboration between Stephen King and Charles Dickens. Our murderer has the face of a sparrow and the upper body of Rocky II era Stallone. A dapper fly with massive wings accompanies a portly spider whose legs stretch up to his web dotted with the corpses of insects. The murder victim is the only one who actually looks like an animal—Cock Robin is the last image shown...on his back with a gaping beak and an arrow through his heart.

"It's Raining, It's Pouring"

Long before they could channel their boredom into violent video games, children of the mid-twentieth century used to amuse themselves on rainy days by imagining the deaths of the elderly and putting their fantasy to a jaunty tune.

It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man's snoring.
He got into bed
And bumped his head
And couldn't get up in the morning.

He couldn't get up because he was dead, not extra tired from bumping his head in the night. Dead.

"Oranges and Lemons"

The eighteenth century nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons" starts out pleasantly enough as church bells are ringing around London.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement's.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.

But like many of these other rhymes prove, you're lulled into a false sense of security until things take a nasty turn at the end.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

Chip chop chip chop
The last man's dead!

Folklorists Peter and Iona Opie pointed out that in the days of public executions, the condemned were led along the street to the accompaniment of the tolling of bells.

Far from traumatized, children gleefully reveled in the last verses and even made a game of it. They threatened to capture whoever ran beneath their arched arms as they shouted "chip chop chip chop!" What followed wasn't an execution, but a game of tug of war between the "oranges" and "lemons." ("London Bridge is Falling Down" has a similar game sans the tug of war ending.)

"Goosey Goosey Gander"

If nursery rhymes sought to teach any morals, respecting elders wasn't one of them. Just like the poor old man who fatally bumped his head on a rainy day, the one who refuses to say his prayers has a similar fate in "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.

Some earlier versions of the rhyme actually command the listener to "take him by the left leg and throw him down the stairs" rather than simply recount the story. Thankfully, the earliest recording from 1784 makes no mention of the cruel punishment but instead offers a gift of a "cup of sack and a race of ginger."

"There was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe"

Apparently none of these naughty children who go around murdering the elderly live with the "Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe" (first published in Infant Institutes, 1797). At first glance, this rhyme seems to depict a poverty-stricken woman trying to provide food and discipline for her children.

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;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

A politically-correct version might have her doling out time-outs instead of whippings, but we get the point. According to another version from James Orchard Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes of England, things take a creepy turn after the lights go out:

When she came back
They were a'lying dead
She went to the wright
To get them a coffin
When she came back
They were a'lying laughing
She gaed up the stair
To ring the bell
The bell-rope broke
And down she fell

"Three Blind Mice"

"Three Blind Mice" is one of the primary examples of a nursery rhyme that wasn't intended for the nursery at all. It made its debut in Thomas Ravenscroft's Deuteromelia or The Seconde part of Musicks Melodie in 1609 in a different form:

Three blind mice, three blind mice
Dame Iulian, Dame Iulian
The Miller and his Merry Olde Wife
Shee scrapte her tripe lick thou the knife

James Orchard Halliwell introduced the tune to children in 1842 with Nursery Rhymes of England, and made it more kid-friendly. Or not. Instead of a miller's wife, we have a farmer's wife—who should be used to seeing mice, living on a farm and all—wielding a carving knife. Not only have the poor mice lost their sight, but they're about to lose their tails, too.

Nursery rhymes have long been prejudiced against mice, though. An even more disturbing scenario was described in "Three Mice Went into a Hole to Spin." Little rodent tailors have to contend with a cat trying to smooth talk her way into their home. It used to end with the mice singing a wise refusal "oh no, Miss Pussy, you'd bite off our heads!", but a chilling alternate ending was included in Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes (1924):

Says Puss: "You look so wondrous wise, I like your whiskers
and bright black eyes; your house is the nicest house I see
I think there is room for you and me."
The mice were so pleased and they opened the door
And pussy soon laid them all dead on the floor.

"Sing a Song of Sixpence"

In what appears to be a centuries-old prequel to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, a royal maid gets her nose pecked off by a blackbird after his brothers are baked into a pie for the king in "Sing a Song of Sixpence." Even though they emerge from the pastry unscathed—and tweet a happy tune, in fact—their protector is still determined to take his wrath out on someone from the royal household.

The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

It seems unfair that the maid and not the baker is his target, but she's given some relief in later versions as a skilled doctor sews her nose back on.

In the earliest known version of the rhyme, however, it's not birds that are baked into the pies, but "four and twenty naughty boys" ala Hansel and Gretel. So while the image of a woman getting her nose ripped off by a vicious blackbird may inspire a lifetime of Ornithophobia, it's a less terrifying fate than ending up in the king's stomach (or outhouse).


Speaking of birds, little kids unfamiliar with the French language may sing along with the lyrics to this tune in ignorant bliss until they realize it's about slowly tearing the feathers off of their chirping friends. The "Three Blind Mice" have nothing on the torture this poor bird endured.

Little skylark, lovely little skylark
Little lark, I'll pluck your feathers off

The lengthy process is as followed (with enthusiastic repetitions in between):

I'll pluck the feathers off your head. I'll pluck the feathers off your head.
I'll pluck the feathers off your beak. I'll pluck the feathers off your beak.
I'll pluck the feathers off your eyes. I'll pluck the feathers off your eyes.
I'll pluck the feathers off your neck. I'll pluck the feathers off your neck.
I'll pluck the feathers off your wings. I'll pluck the feathers off your wings.
I'll pluck the feathers off your feet. I'll pluck the feathers off your feet.
I'll pluck the feathers off your tail. I'll pluck the feathers off your tail.
I'll pluck the feathers off your back. I'll pluck the feathers off your back.

Off your back!
Off your tail!
Off your feet!
Off your wings!
Off your neck!
Off your eyes!
Off your beak!
Off your head!
Little lark!

Be really afraid of the kids who do understand French and keep on singing.

"Eeper Weeper"

Mother Goose again proves that yesterday's crime can become today's nursery rhyme. While modern children's songs teach kids how to count and learn their ABCs, children of bygone eras had different how to efficiently hide a dead body. "Eeper Weeper" offers the bonus of using your existing career skills to do it.

Eeper Weeper, chimney sweeper,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her.
Had another, didn't love her,
Up the chimney he did shove her.

An earlier version from Scotland includes the delightful detail of mice feasting on the woman's corpse. "Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater" found a similar solution when he stashed his cheating wife's body in a pumpkin shell "and there he kept her very well."

"Oh My Darling, Clementine"

In "Oh My Darling, Clementine," the narrator recalls his lost love—a big-footed miner's daughter who gets a splinter in her toe and stumbles into a river. Because he couldn't swim, he stood nearby and watched her drown. The song is meant to be light-hearted, but it still paints a vivid picture of Clementine's demise:

Ruby lips above the water,
Blowing bubbles, soft and fine,
But, alas, I was no swimmer,
So I lost my Clementine.

Percy Montrose is credited with the earliest version of the classic folk ballad, which debuted in 1884, but the song was actually inspired by H.S. Thompson's earlier song "Down by the River Liv'd a Maiden." The 1863 ode to Clementine describes her womanly features like "her lips were like two luscious beefsteaks, dipp'd in tomato sauce and brine." In this version, her lover plies her with wine before she takes her fatal dip into the water. In the 1960s, Bobby Darin added insult to injury when he ended his cover with a fat joke:

Hey you sailor
Way out in your whaler
A-with your harpoon and your trusty line
If she shows now, yell...
A-there she blows now!
It just may be chunky Clementine

"London Bridge is Falling Down"

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

"London Bridge is Falling Down" references the famous stone bridge that was commissioned by Henry II in the late-1100s. It's a simple song that lists different materials to try to keep the bridge from collapsing (earlier versions claim London Bridge is broken down, rather than falling down). Folklorists have tried in vain to link the famous "my fair lady" to historic women like Anne Boleyn, Matilda of Scotland and Eleanor of Provence. But for horror purposes, we're not concerned with the lady of the song; we're concerned with the man. The watchman to be exact.

Set a man to watch all night,
Watch all night, watch all night,
Set a man to watch all night,
My fair lady.

The watchman seems to be appointed to make sure thieves don't make away with the precious building materials like silver and gold, but there's also a more sinister explanation for his role, according to the Opies. Legend has it, living people were built into the foundations of walls and gates "to serve as guardian spirits." In the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, they cite tales of other famous bridges, like Aryte in Greece, which is said to have kept from falling down after the wife of the master-mason was walled in and the bridge of Rosporden in Brittany that was failing until a four-year-old boy was sacrificed. Indeed, children's bodies have been found embedded into the foundations of bridges like the Bridge Gate at Bremen.

As far as we know, however, no humans were harmed in the making of London Bridge.

February 28, 2013
Images are public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

More Song Writing

Comments: 71

  • Lovelyshyangel from CaliIt's quite disturbing how none of us had any idea wat we were's the same w other cultures like reading about the "cakewalk" done in the 50s and even having a picnic! As they say knowledge is power! The question is once we have the power what do we do w it?
  • Riley from South CarolinaI..will never look at "Ring Around the Rosie" the same... Definitely won't teach it to my kids! This is a very disturbing nursery rhyme; as I've seen a video of the sickness process from my history class....
  • Jojo from IllinoisI thought they were to teach us how to sing. I was caught up in the music portion without ever knowing the meaning.
  • Pamela from OceansideAlmost perfect remember singing a lot of those songs when I was young
  • J from Yeet Town Usa Holy these are creepy.
  • Aubrey Lawson from Burns, Wyum wow i didn't think about how dark people make our childhood
  • Arno from Posterholt, NetherlandsThat ring-a-rosies hymn will forever remember me to the first series of Sapphire and Steel, when those spiriis in the house are conjured by the reciting of that poem through the time hole. It was one of the earliest horror series I saw as a child, and yet it kept that strange attraction to me...maybe sometimes the horror is a mirror of the angsts in ourselves we hope to cope with.
  • AnonymousThere is some other songs that are missing and they are Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall and Ladybird ladybird
  • Fiona from Ranchi, IndiaRing-a-ring-a roses
    Pocket full of posies
    All fell down

    This is how we sing it in India
  • Tania from Brisbane, AustraliaIt’s raining, it’s pouring
    The old man is snoring

    He bumped his head
    In the middle of the bed

    And couldn’t get up in the morning

    That’s how we sang it in Australia
  • Jo from TexasI think it was 9th or 10th grade that my teachers taught us about these things. Seems like both my English and History teachers incorporated it in their classes. Hearing the teachers explain what seemed fun or silly words was quite an eyeopener!

    It seems strange to us now that past generations told their histories through stories and song but, for many years, (as I recall) only the clergy could read...then the very rich...etc. In high school, I "knew" about lack of reading in years past, but it didn't resonate until these meanings were revealed to me!
    We do the same with our family histories. We talk about past generations & stories about them. -- we have a verbal history, not all of it pleasant.
    I can't remember which ones, but seems I was told that some of the nursery rhymes had gruesome endings to encourage children to behave.
  • Anonymous from Anonymous We used to sing the hearse song you should have listed that one
  • Ace from None YaThis is just disgusting that people would make songs like this, as a kid I didn't think much of it but know reading them over again makes me realise I used to sing these songs without knowing what they meant I am shocked
  • Gay Kid from IllinoisLondon Bridge actually refers to the codename given to the queen and anyone in her court who sings it will be fired and exiled
  • None Ya from None YaWhy would people make this if it ruins childhoods this is wrong
  • Georgna from Bahamas/usaLooking for a ring play song we sung as a child "My mother died and buried, my father forsake me, i had no one to love me, so they threw me *n the deep blue sea.
  • Lindsey from Africathis is very creepy
  • Observer from Ohio Thank you very much. Good job. Some day cares still use them.
    I wonder why Ba Ba Black Sheep did not make your list, It is insightful and decrading.
  • A Commenter from CanadaReading aloud the whole article sent shivers! It's fascinating what humans do to history over time. Let's just be hopeful in this day and age. No new ones rise into exsistence
  • Garth Michaels from Walnut Creek, CaVery insightful, but scary and sad. Thank you for shedding light into a dark area that still can take its toll.
  • Vivi from NyAwesome job! Now I will think twice before singing those llullabies!
  • Virgoagosto Veinteocho-musica from Presque Isle, Maine 04769awesome job, Mandy!! a lot of the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes i knew some dark meanings behind them. Like bits'n'pieces of them. but U bring more light onto this dark meanings behind our beloved children Nursery Rhymes. Thanks, hun!! :)
  • Chelle from TnCreepy. I always suspected these nursery ryhmes to be evil. My suspicions were right.
  • Midnight from West VirginiaI loved it. (I know, I'm creepy)
  • Michelle House from Charlotte,ncSecular education is the worst psychological abuse known to man.
  • Janboleejo from Connecticutfascinating, to say the least. As a elementary music teacher I can tell you that the kids are still innocent and don't even think twice about the lyrics. They love the games and the rhymes. Never have they asked about the for all the adults working with kids....knowledge is power. For the rest of you- if THIS traumatizes you, you've led a very sheltered life. Love it...thanks :-)
  • Eric from CaliforniaIt's raining, it's pouring mentions the old man snoring; this indicates they are telling how he fell asleep. He couldn't snore as he were getting into bed. If he's snoring, he's not dead. Unless, he FELL out of bed and hit his head.
  • Tamia Evans from Clearwater Floridathe f--k you ruin my childhood and there is more messed up stuff in this world already why would you do this
  • Pokemonlegend Shaymin from SinnohThis is scary and I work at a daycare and these are some of the childrens favorite songs
  • Na'kijaha Judkins from North CarolinaThese have ruined my childhood I was wondering why my teacher said that she couldn't tell us the meaning in school
  • Kaylee Rose from TorontoMy friend Kyle told me about the back stories about these nursery rhymes. At first, I didn't believe him, so I looked it up. And here they are, exactly how he explained it.
  • Arren Falcor from 823 Hopkins London bridge backwards is,
    "The killer is out, Mike kill all this is enough!"
    And so on. Search it up :)
  • Tony from ChicagoFor us French speakers, there is also "Ne Pleure pas Jeanette." Basically a woman is crying over her lover. An undisclosed speaker tells her everything's going to be alright; she can always marry a prince or a baron's son. It is then revealed that her lover is on actually death row awaiting hanging; and Jeanette is inconsolable. The speaker then very merrily announces to her that in that case, they shall be hung together.
    It still totally creeps me out.
  • No from NoNooooooooo you scard me
  • Nancy Brantingham from MinnesotaWe used to sing London Bridge etc. then , "Here's the hatchet chops off heads", then. "Here's the bucket dips up blood", then "Here's the prisoner we have caught", with appropriate chopping, dipping and catching. This was in a little Quaker town in Ohio. I didn't know about other words until I moved to Minneapolis, and other neighbors had a fit.
  • Aja Harvey from Ware Massachusetts Well with london bridge he did "build it up with silver and gold, and take the key to lock up his fair lady for safe keeping. Or because he had killed his wife and didnt want her soul to wander about.
  • Jaime from PerúI started looking into nursery rhyme conspiracies when my teacher taught us the real meaning of Ring around the Rosie.
  • A Human Being from Some Place On EarthCan I just say in the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” isn't the second verse "All the children laugh and play, laugh and play, laugh and play, All the children laugh and play, my fair lady."
    If so couldn't that mean anything? Mwahahaha (Sorry that was random‚ but I'm being serious could that mean anything?)
  • Anymous from UnknownWow I used to love nursery rhymes
  • Sydney from Someplace CloseI mean I knew that a lot of nursery rhymes weren't what they seem. I never liked them when I was a kid because for example I knew the kids in ring around th Rosie was about death but when I was younger I didn't know anything but is was them dying, before I saw this I knew it was the pleg. I like singing them slow to creep ppl out now ???????? ya ik im sick and twisted but idc
  • Hollie Dean from BrisbaneI always loved Fuzzy Wuzzy
    Not sure about a meaning but it was a cute tongue twister.

    "Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
    Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair
    Fuzzy Wuzzy wasnt fuzzy, was he?!"
  • Ana from Hot TopicIs it weird that I still love these Nursery Rhymes even though they're quite morbid...? My favourite one is called The Crooked Man;

    There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
    He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
    He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
    And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
    'Tis strange and odd, but it is oddly... attracting, somehow.
    Good day, everyone!
  • Alisia from GeorgiaI used to love that song Ring Around the Rosies and now that I know what its about I don't really like it anymore. Wow who knew nursery rhymes were so sick and so twisted?!
  • Ashley from North Dakota My little sister use to sing the song about clemintine And actually named our puppy that.
  • Scary Isn't It ? from LalalalalalaThe worlds a sick cruel place, don't hide that from your children, if they aren't scared when they enter the new world, they'll end lost and dead because they didn't know what laid ahead.
  • Unknown from Wait isn't Auntie London bridge one cuz its about children dieing of starvation
  • Ann Johnes from Gainesville TxWow who would have evee guessed we where wprped from the very beginning and even our parents didn't know lol my kids will have another reason to ask questions this will help
  • Helen from NHello, you could add another one about the Spanish Flu, it was sang in the 1918-19 during outbreak, it goes "I had a little bird,
    Its name was Enza.
    I opened the window,
    And in-flu-enza."
  • Peter from San Jose This world we live in is not a very good place than we thought so I think that our ancestors just wanted to show us the good in thing better than the bad
  • Realist from The Real World Not The Bubbles You Live InBy all means convince your kids that the world is completely safe and they have nothing to fear. shelter them and coddle them and nature will do the rest.
  • Elegant Butler from HellFunny how the article left out my favorite violent nursery rhyme, the Two Cats of Kilkenny
  • AliciaAt leats we still have insy winsy spider! That was always my favorite one to sing :)
  • Kate from Orlando Flmy kids will never be aloud to watch or sing any of these "things"
  • Lilly from Orlando FlThis has ruined my childhood forever i remember singing these songs with my best friends and telling each other stories about how we each thought it really went but,this is the first time i ever thought to check it out and now i don't think i can ever watch a fairy tale again let alone sing any of the songs any more
  • Paul from HampshireYou may be interested in this:

    Innocent’s Song, a ghost story for ‘Oranges and Lemons’ Day

    PJ Hodge
  • Person from None Of Your BusinessAlso, Humpty was a cannon from the 1600s. And it got destroyed.
  • Person from None Of Your BusinessIf I ever have kids, they will not be allowed to recite these...
  • Shashabooey from DallasOn the Plague. The "ring-around-the-rosie" refers to the small reddened areas that surrounded a flea bite, a flea with a blocked gut full of Yersinia Pestis (plague). There were other ways of contracting plague, but the pneumonic and septicemic forms left no visible sign. Flowers, spices, anything with an aroma was thought to prevent infection. When you see the old woodcuts from back then where people had masks with a long, slender beak you will know that the beak was filled with such things. It was ah-choo (or your spelling of a sneeze), it was a symptom. However I do not think they burned the bodies, many mass graves have been found. It was at this time that people started the "6 ft." rule of burying the dead. There you have it.
  • Chomper03 from Pen Argyl, Pa. In my book of Charles Panati's "Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things" (1987, ), it simply states the following about the nursery rhyme of "Ring-a-Ring o' Roses" : In the rhyme, "ring o' roses" refers to the circular rosy rash that was one of the plague's (the Black Death) early symptoms. And the "pocket full of posies" stands for the herbs people carried in their pockets, believing they offered protection against the disease. The final two lines, "A-tishoo! A-tishoo! / We all fall down," tell of the plague's fatal sneeze, which preceded physical collapse; literally, the victim fell down dead.
  • Weirdo from My Motheri am doing a project on this and it proves that we need to watch what we tell our kids i remember growing up with these rhymes and even then i thought they where a bit creepy
  • Kate from Milan, MichiganI got a dark side to humpty humpty dumpty they never said he was an egg. He could have been a person who cracked his head open and he died because they couldn't put the mans head back together again.
  • Anonymous"He couldn't get up because he was dead, not extra tired from bumping his head in the night. Dead." Says who? The previous line said he was snoring. Most dead people don't snore.
  • Patrick from Bremen, GaJim from North Billerica, MA: I remember when I was in 8th Grade my teacher telling us about the real Brothers Grimm, and how a lot of their stories were really gruesome. The versions we are more familiar with are usually the French or English versions, which are either romanticized or highly bleached versions. The one that stuck in my head all these years was the Grimms' version of "Cinderella", which involves self-mutilation and eye-gouging.
  • Anonymous from TxKorn had a field day with this on "Shoots and Ladders"
  • Anne O. Nimmous from SalamandastonI heard a story about "Sing a Song of Sixpence" actually being about pirates...
  • Ivana In Ny from The Virgin IslandsVery suprising so much history in all of that i bet 70/30 most are true we ust don't know it.
  • Larissa from None Of Your BusinessThis really interested me. I grew up singing these songs. Even though I do know the meaning of these, I will teach them to my kids. It's like a mini history lesson if you think about it. Although it does scare the hell out me, it's really funny. Like, who comes up with this stuff.
  • Jess from Will Not SayI just want to say this:
    Here in England, instead of "Ashes, ashes", we say "Astishoo, atishooo", like sneezing, which i think people with the Plague did.

    Also, that poor bird! The french song sounds so cheerful and well known and I thought it was just describing the feathers, not pulling them off!
  • Maggi from St Paul MnI've heard the same about the original Wizard of Oz books, the Tin Woodsman had his legs and etc. actually chopped off and then replaced with tin.
  • Jim from North Billerica, MaI enjoyed the hell out of this feature. When you stop and think for a second, Mother Goose and The Brothers Grimm were pretty gruesome. Can you imagine anyone writing those songs and stories today and marketing them to children? they be run out on a rail!
  • AnonymousI love stories like this, with the history behind them. I'd heard the stuff on "ring around the rosie" before, but the "Sixpence," I'd heard, was a true story I think about King Henry VIII... or one of those famous kings or queens... seems like it was true, but it wasn't blackbirds, it was songbirds.
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