Tag Archives: children’s game

Ms. Lucy Nursery Rhyme

  • Context: The informants are brothers A, 19, and B, 15. This transcription was taken from an argument between the brothers over the “correct” words to the nursery rhyme about “Ms. Lucy.” The nursery rhyme is used mostly as a schoolyard game, sometimes accompanied by a hand-game the brothers tell me, but in their argument they were only debating the words of the rhyme itself. 
  • Text:

B: It starts off ‘Ms. Lucy has a baby, his name was tiny Tim…’

A: No it doesn’t, it goes ‘Ms. Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a…”

B: No that’s not what I’m talking about!

A: Well, what are you talking about? 

B: I’m talking about the one mom taught us.

A: Okay, fine, what one?

B: ‘Ms. Lucy had a baby, his name was Tiny Tim

She put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim

He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap

He tried to eat the bath tub, but it wouldn’t go down his throat

Ms. Lucy called the doctor, Ms. Lucy called the nurse,

Ms. Lucy called the baby with the alligator purse 

Mumps said the doctor, Measles said the nurse, 

Nonsense said the lady with the alligator purse 

Penicillin said the doctor, castor oil said the nurse,

Pizza said the lady with the alligator purse

Out went the doctor, out went the nurse, out went the lady with the allegator purse’

A: Okay. Yeah, but I was talking about the other version.

B: What’s your version?

A (B starts singing along): 

‘Ms. Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell (ding ding)

Ms. Lucy went to heaven and the steamboat went to 

Hello operator, give me number 9, if you disconnect me I’ll chop off your 

Behind the ‘fridgerator, there was a piece of glass 

Ms. Lucy sat upon it and cut her big fat 

Ask me no more questions, tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom zipping up their 

Flies are in the meadow, bees are in the park

Ms. Lucy and her boyfriend kissing in the D-A-R-K D-A-R-K 

Dark dark dark’

B: I know that one.

A: Is that where you stop?

B: What do you mean?

A: Mine keeps going. It goes… 

‘Darker than the ocean, darker than the sea 

Darker than the underwear my Mommy puts on me’ 

  • Analysis: I had also learned the Ms. Lucy version that informant B was singing from my mother and many of my friends would play it with me as a hand game on the play ground in elementary school. Once I entered middle-school, the version that informant A sang became popular at school. But at my school, we continued the rhyme even further. We would sing… 

‘Me is very special, Me is very great’ 

And then we would have different variations after those lyrics. Usually ending with… 

‘I kicked him over London, I kicked him over France

I kicked him over the USA and saw his underpants’

I think the reason the versions change is because of the intended audience. The first version, presented by informant B, is much more suitable for children. It is funny because of the motif of the alligator purse and the fact that she wants the baby to eat pizza, which is a food often enjoyed by children. The version presented by informant A is much more rich with “inappropriate” lingo. At the end of each verse, it leads into the next by using near rhyme with a swear word. For example “hell” goes to “hello” and “ass” goes to “ask.” In addition, there are sexual references, both to male genitalia and to Ms. Lucy and her boyfriend kissing in the dark. I asked the meaning of the “dark underwear that mommy puts on me,” and there was a consensus that it was referring to underwear stained by period blood. This version of the nursery rhyme often occurs when children are in middle school, which makes sense because that’s often when you start using swear words, have your first kiss, and begin menstruating.

For other versions, visit https://www.bussongs.com/songs/miss-lucy-had-a-steam-boat

“Miss Lucy Had a Steam Boat: Nursery Rhymes & Kids’ Songs.” Nursery Rhymes & Kids’ Songs | BusSongs.com, 9 July 2008, www.bussongs.com/songs/miss-lucy-had-a-steam-boat.

Four Square

  • Context: The informant (A) is a 15 year old high school student in Utah. He explains the rules of the game Four Square to me and the various rules that can be added to the game. He notes that the game can be played with any ball as long as it bounces (though the ball typically must be the size of a basketball or soccer ball). The game is usually played on a designated court, though you can play it anywhere the ground is divided into 4 equal squares serving as the court. The game is also typically played at school, usually in elementary or middle school during recess. This conversation took place as the informant and I were trying to remember all of the rules of four square together, although he remembered them all, while I did not. 
  • Text:

A: “There’s so many types of four square”

Me: “What types?”

A: “Black magic… um… pac man, double-touch, single-touch, um… cherry bomb… um”

Me: “Are those different types of…”

A: “They’re different rules… those are different rules”

Me: “What is four square?”

A: “So four square you have this big square divided into four labeled A, B, C, D. A get’s to decide which rule is played with and starts out with the ball and you hit it to…”

Me: “What kind of ball?”

A: “It doesn’t matter you can play with a basketball, soccer ball, volleyball, um kickball… it just has to bounce. And then they hit it to the square and if it bounces twice in your square… um… then you’re out and then you’re sent back to the line… and then… then you’re sent back to the line. And then say you’re in C, the person who was in C goes to D and the person who was in the front of the line goes to… uh… D.”

Me: “Where do you play?”

A: “On the four square court.”

Me: “But where are the four square courts? Just in your neighborhood?”

A: “No… you play it at school.”

Me: “So what are the different rules?”

A: “So I’ll just go with the top 5. So, pac man is you got the person in A runs around the square and if you get tagged with the ball you’re it, but they can’t throw it at you… I mean you’re out… but they can’t throw the ball at you. Double touch is where you have to hit it up, like you have to hit it up so it bounces to you… so you hit it up then hit it into someone else’s square. Single touch you can hit it once. Cherry bomb is you go really far apart and you throw it at each other.”

  • Analysis: Four square is a school yard game played by both girls and boys in middle school. I was surprised to hear all of the rules the informant knew were the same I had played with in middle school even though I am 6 years older than the informant. The rules, such as black magic or cherry bomb, give the person with the ball a sense of power over the rules of the game. In addition, the rotation of players between the squares establishes a sense of hierarchy between those who stay in and those who get out. I believe this game is played at school because that’s where there is access to bouncing balls, a quart, and a large amount of players. I think the game is usually played in elementary school and middle school because those are the years recess is granted, so there is free time to play, where as in high school there is no designated play time.

Punch Buggy Game

Context: Going into this folklore project, I knew that I wanted to collect somebody’s personal account of the Punch Buggy game. This is a game that my sisters and I used to play whenever we rode in the car as children and it involves the pointing out of Volkswagen Beetle cars. Many of my friends who went to my elementary school also played the game whenever they were in the car, and I distinctly remember riding in with them and thinking, ‘that’s not how you play the game.” Looking back now, I realize that they were not playing the game wrong and were actually demonstrating the multiplicity and variation that is intrinsic to folklore. I was interviewing an informant, an art major at USC and avid skateboarder, when I was reminded about my interest in the game. I asked the 19-year-old informant from Saratoga, California, if he had ever played the punch buggy game and, if so, how he had played it.

Piece: “Yeah, so, me and my older sister used to always play the punch buggy game. It was a favorite of ours and we were pretty competitive about it, as siblings usually are. So, on long road trips, my family and I used to drive up to Bear Valley from San Jose, which is like a three-hour car ride. And I’d usually be stuffed in the back seat with my sister who would like to mess with me all the time. So, um, whenever you saw a Volkswagen bug driving down the road, in a parking lot, in someone’s driveway, or I guess anywhere, you would immediately punch the person who you are playing with and say, ‘no punch backs!’ No, you would say, ‘Punch buggy no punch backs!’ It wouldn’t be that hard of punch, just a hit in the arm. But we also had some variations on those rules, like I knew a lot of people who would just see a VW Bug, punch the other person, and that was it. But our version was more complicated. So, if you saw an out-of-state license plate, you would get two punches. And I forgot to mention that one punch equals one point. So if you saw a punch buggy with a Washington license plate, you’d be able to punch your sibling. And I think we had some other rule involving the colors of the cars too, but I can’t remember that exactly. I think maybe if you saw the same color twice then your points would multiply, or some shit. I don’t know, there were a bunch of different factors in it, but I can’t remember all of them.”

Analysis: I find it fascinating that without me ever mentioning it, the informant spoke about how the Punch Buggy game’s rules have multiple variations. I remember about ten years ago, in attempt to capitalize on the popular children’s game, the Volkswagen motor company released a series of commercials which proposed a new game that could be played with Volkswagen Beetles. In the commercial, a person would see one of the cars and say the color of the car followed by the word “one.” For example, if you saw a red car, you would say “red one.” I remember a few of my friends playing this game in the months following the commercials’ release; however, after a while, people lost interest and the game died out. I believe that this reflects the human desire to hold on to folkloric and organically developed traditions in an increasingly artificial world. The entire category of road trip games came out of the boredom of riding in a car for long periods of time. For children especially, games like these are necessary outlets for fun since sitting in the back seat of a car can often feel uncomfortable and constraining and it can be difficult to talk to the person who is driving or sitting in the passenger seat.

AnnotationFor variations of the rules of Punch Buggy, see:

Polk, Janet. Rules for Playing Slug Bug and Punch Buggy. AuthorHouse, 2006.

 

Chicken Games – Proving Personal Vigor in American Childhood

Item:

M: Most of the games I had, like, heard about and observed were all the, like, chicken games where it’s like, “ah yeah, take an eraser over your knuckles. Whoever wimps out first loses.”

R: Well of course they- did you play quarters**?

M: Yeah, or um, slaps.  This is where people would like, hold the other person’s hand, slap each other as hard as they can

E: Until someone gave up.

M: Until someone gave out.

E: It’s so stupid I hated it.

A: A version I played was when you did the middle finger thing to their forearm until they gave out.  And you’d end up with these giant red spots.

 

Context:

**Quarters was understood by all as a game where each player places his fist knuckles down on the table and shoots quarters at the other until someone gave out.

I collected this piece about chicken games while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about the games from our childhoods.  One of the participants in the conversation, denoted as ‘M’ , brought up chicken games from his elementary and middle school days, prompting others to contribute the variations they knew of and demonstrating on themselves when necessary.  Each interlocutor is denoted by a different letter.  The interlocutors were students of the University of Southern California, but of different class standings and two had already graduated.  The first informant, ‘M’, is a sophomore who went to elementary school on a military base in Japan but middle and high school in Texas; ‘R’ is a Ph.D. student who grew up in Maryland and Michigan; ‘E’ graduated in 2018 and grew up in Lompoc, CA; and ‘A’ graduated in 2018 and grew up in San Diego, CA.  They all brought up these games as something they had either observed or participated in during either middle or elementary school years, saying they viewed it as something either funny (a common opinion amongst the males) or stupid (as said by the only other female in the conversation aside from myself) at the time, but particularly viewing it as stupid nowadays.  There was also a general consensus that most kids would abandon these games by late middle school (8th grade) at the latest.

 

Analysis:

The wide range in age of the interlocutors is very indicative of how long these chicken games perpetuated, particularly with how the oldest interlocuter is ten years older than the youngest interlocuter.  Since you would pick these games up from other kids, it would make sense that as the older kids pass them down to the younger kids, they would continue through the years, particularly through neighborhood interactions where groups were not necessarily divided by age.  Another interesting point was the wide variety of locations in which each of the interlocuters grew up and/or attended elementary and middle school.  There were locations all over the United States, and even abroad in an American community overseas; I also knew of these games while growing up in Virginia.  As such, these chicken games are likely a part of greater American school-age children’s culture, especially amongst younger children because there was a general consensus that these games were abandoned once late middle school years came around.

What is more important, though, is why children would partake in these kinds of games, especially when they sometimes left physical marks on the body as mentioned by ‘A’ in the exchange above.  Particularly in the institutionalized schooling structure of the US, children are all brought up to think in particular ways and learn specific things and as such there can be a large sense of homogeneity among them.  These chicken games can establish another type of identity that is more counterhegemonic, considering these games were often strictly ruled against in schools and looked down upon by parents.  They can also establish a power dynamic amongst children who might otherwise be in an egalitarian environment.  If children can establish themselves as the strongest or the bravest in these games, it gives them something else to identify themselves with, which is why leaving marks may also be apart of why they take part in these games in the first place.  They become victorious signifiers of glory and pride, somewhat like battle scars; this also becomes significant when considering how children become increasingly aware of their bodies and their physical images as they get older.  These games were more popular among boys and with American culture so heavily centered around physical strength in men, these chicken games may be their attempts to embody these ideas from early on.  As for why they typically died out during middle and high school, partaking in certain subcultures becomes increasingly more significant during this time as children becoming adolescents begin to further explore who they want to be; these subculture identities begin to take more precedence moving out of elementary years.  This can correlate with why chicken games die out as students get older and more mature because they would no longer need these trivial markers of identity.

 

Additional Interlocuter Information:

The informant description for ‘M’ is in the section above the item, and the same information for each of the other informants is included below.

‘R’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 29; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles; Primary Language: English

‘E’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 22; Occupation: Non-Profit Arts Administrator; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Language(s): Italian

‘A’ – Nationality: American-born Taiwanese; Age: 22; Occupation: Digital Marketing/Entrepreneur; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Language(s): Mandarin, Japanese

Thumb Wars

Context

I asked the informant for a popular schoolyard game from his childhood, and this was his immediate response. Though I had played many a thumb war, his opening signature chant varied from mine.

Main Piece

Alright: thumb wars! Everyone used to do ‘em, and it starts off with the signature chant: “one, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war” as you move your thumb from left to right in opposition to your opponent’s. Sometimes, I don’t know if this is a thing out here, but we had “one, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war. five, six, seven, eight, you’re the thumb I really hate” um, I’m not sure if that’s a thing out here but we did that back home and then, you know, obviously you just like take your thumb and you try to push the other person’s thumb down as your hands are intertwined. It is cheating to move the elbow, um, it has to be all the thumb and yeah, the winner gets nothing, besides pride.

Notes

Thumb wars were very popular during my childhood, and so this recounting may not be the most valuable piece of lore, but I was intrigued by the variation in the classic introductory chant. While familiar with the first part — “one, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war,” in my experience, it is followed by “five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumbs straight.” Because my informant grew up in Wisconsin, I believe it may be a regional variance.

 

The Cremer Family’s Passover Hazelnut Game

Background:  I had approached Hannah about telling me about her family Passover tradition that she had fleetingly mentioned at Shabbat Dinner at Hillel at the University of Southern California. She had talked about a hazelnut game for children during Passover that is unique to her family. Hannah goes to her grandparent’s house for the first night of Passover and celebrates the second night at her great-aunts house. She is from Illinois.

Context: I interviewed Hannah in the dining room of our sorority house, Delta Delta Delta. It was right after dinnertime so the dining room was full of people with coffee or tea chatting in the background of our conversation.

“Basically it’s kind of like marbles but we play with hazelnuts and my great-grandfather came up with it. We play with shelled hazelnuts. Everyone sits in a circle and you have your own little pile of hazelnuts which are like the ammo and in the center they spread them out, like a dozen or whatever, and then the kids all go around and take a turn throwing one of their hazelnuts from their personal pile at the ones in the center. If you hit one in the center then you get a quarter. Then as the game progresses there are stacks of quarters with a hazelnut on top that are in the center which are the jackpot pieces. When you hit the hazelnut off the stack of quarters, then you get the hazelnut plus the whole stack. So it’s pretty fun, I don’t know. You play it until you’re at bar or bat mitzvah age and then my grandpa is always the one that runs it all. His grandfather was the one that came up with the game. So we’ve been playing it for a really long time with the exact same hazelnuts. I don’t know how they’ve lasted this long, they’re 60 years old. It’s so gross. I was the only granddaughter until I was 12 so I always got some extra quarters tossed my way. It was always a fun game. When you’re a little kid, the Passover seder is so long to sit through. We would play the game right before dessert. So after the seder and dinner- it was something to look forward to. We always played on the basement floor of my grandparents house. It’s really bizarre. My great grandparents were born in Odessa, Russia. My grandparents were born here. My grandpa learned it from his father. I think it’s important to my grandpa that we keep playing this game. All the hazelnuts are the original hazelnuts, we don’t replace them with any new ones. My dad’s whole side of the family is Eastern-European and came to the US around the early 1900s. I didn’t know that other people didn’t play this game until I was pretty old. I truly had no idea, I thought everyone played this.”

Reflection: I am Jewish and grew up in Los Angeles going to Jewish day school. I have never heard of a tradition like this one, from my friends or family.

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Piscatore

“So this is a game we play in Sardinia. Everybody holds the hand of the person next to them making like a circle. And there is a person in charge and he gives secretly everyone a type of fish. Like, you know, I would whisper to Samuel, ‘salmone’, salmon. And I would whisper into your ear, ‘you are, I don’t know, um, trout’. So each child is a type of fish. And then they, you know, they start singing this song, ‘We are fish and the fisherman is here to catch you and if I’m lucky I’m going to catch…Salmon!” And at this point Samuel is supposed to leave the circle and run around it while I try to catch him and if he’s able to get back to where he was and avoid the hands of the fisherman then he wins, and I have to go again. If I catch him, then it’s his turn to lead it.”

The informant told me about this childhood game after telling me about several other games he played as a child. It seemed that once he started talking about what he did as a child, he did not want to stop! He said that this was one of his favorite games to play, because it involved running around and was a little silly. It’s fun to make up fish names for people and then chase your friends around. He would normally play this at school during breaks with his friends. He has good memories of such times. Furthermore, he still remembers the tune of the song, which he sang to me. Now, as a teacher, he still sometimes uses games like this to teach his students Italian vocabulary.

This game remind me of duck, duck, grey duck, a game I used to play when I was in preschool and elementary school. The punchline is still the same: race your friend around the circle to the spot you just left. However, I like the edition of the silly fish names and the song. I think even now, as a college student, I might find this game entertaining, because it’s simple yet the chase is exciting. It’s interesting that the version I know talks about ducks, while the Sardinian version is about fish. Sardinia is an island off Italy, and they probably have a lot of fishing in their economy. A lot of culture centers around what and how people eat, so it makes sense that this version is about a fisherman, a “piscatore”, and his fish. Furthermore, it involves the fisherman chasing the fish, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. This reflects the reality of how hard it can be to fish for your food. I’m sure that the idea of chasing someone around a circle of people has many origins, because it is a simple and fun way to entertain a group of people. It is still interesting that similar versions of this game appear in many different countries. I like the idea that we grew up playing similar games, despite our disparate birthplaces.

Simon Dice

“One person says things and the other people have to do them or they lose”.

Simon Dice is a Spanish name for Simon Says, a game that kids usually play among themselves. One person is the leader, called “Simon”, and they give commands such as, “Stand on one foot” or “Clap your hands”. These commands are preceded by the words, “Simon dice” or “Simon says”. If the leader does not say these words, the children are not supposed to do the action, and if they do they lose.

The informant played this game back home in Mexico when he was a young boy. He played it with friends at school. He said they he probably wouldn’t find it fun now, nor does he remember it being much fun when he was a kid. This is because it is very simple and not very exciting. He did not know that there is a similar version here in America.

I remember playing Simon Says when I was a kid. However, it was usually suggested by the adults as a group game to keep us entertained for awhile. We could play it at school or at camp. I think at one point I found it fun, because the commands can get pretty ridiculous. And when someone loses, by doing the action when you’re not supposed to, they stand out as the only one who messed up, and everyone laughs at them. I think it’s interesting that the exact same game exists in Mexico, showing that it has been around for some time and traveled across country borders. I also think it’s interesting that the name “Simon” is shared in both versions, although I can’t see a reason why this particular name is important. Note: In the Mexican version, the o in Simon has an accent, but I can’t enter it on the computer.