USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘rhyme’
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Chinese, Japanese, Look At These, Hit My Knees

“I had an ummm…. sort of racist I mean it was very racist, I think this might have been in the Devils Rejects, was it in the devil’s rejects? I think it was anyways I did the same thing as the people in the Devil’s Rejects did in elementary school… not murdering people… but this demented nursery rhyme… it went sort of like ‘Chinese, Japanese, look at these hit my knees*’ it was very racist and I think that’s why we did it and even the Japanese kids in our class did it…. ummmmm…. We knew it was bad and we did it anyways (laughs)”

*note the informant does motions with his hands when he says “Chinese” he stretches his eyes length wise, “Japanese” he stretches them width wise, “Look at these” he motions towards his chest as if to insinuate breasts, “Hit my knees” fairly self explanatory, the speaker hits his knees.

I found this one interesting because it’s a rhyme that’s clearly at the level where it’s made for kids. It’s very intentionally crude as sort of a taboo rhyme. It was a horrible non sensical thing to say but it whoever said it felt like they were breaking rules. This probably added to the fun of the rhyme.

Folk speech
Humor

Armenian Days of the Week Rhyme

Armenian: Ուրբաթ, Շաբաթ, Կիրակի, արջը գնաց մարզանկի, ուսթա Սակոն կրակեց, արջի փորա դրակեց.

Phonetic Translation: Urbat’, Shabat’, Kiraki, arjy gnats’ marzanki, ust’a Sakon krakets’, arji p’vora drakets’.

English Translation: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went to the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this rhyme, which is used to teach children the days of the week, with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The way that… So, in Armenia the way that parents will teach their children the days of the week is we have this rhyme. So, you say the days of the week, Monday through Friday. Armenians start with Mondays, we don’t start with Sundays. And it goes: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

[Laughter]

Me: Wow…

Informant: And it’s… it is really violent, but it rhymes really well, and so it’s caught on a lot to Armenian kids.

Me: Where do children usually learn this from?

Informant: Hmm… Armenian education systems are different than in America. For example, a child is expected to go to elementary school with… sort of the basics already down… Like the mother is expected to be a very good mother in that sense, if you think that a mother teaching you, you know, education at such a young age is a quality of a good mother. Um, they were supposed to come in with like a working knowledge, and the rhyme was generally taught by the mothers. So it was just a fun way for the kids to like, learn it and, you know, it was funny. Like, the violence in it, in Armenian stories in general. Just like in Grimms’ fairy tales. They’re very violent, and it’s just what makes them funny.

Analysis:

This rhyme is an example of violent children’s humor. Children’s media, such as the Warner Bros. television show Looney Tunes, often contain violence and, specifically, violent humor, despite the association of children with innocence. This rhyme also provides children with an easy way to remember the days of the week, as the rhyme associates memorization of them with something funny.

Game
Humor
Kinesthetic

“This is Buggy”

Context: The informant is an 11-year-old resident of Southern California, of Indo-Pakistani descent. She lives with two older siblings, parents, and grandparents and attends a public middle school in the South Bay area. She has close friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and the following narrative sequence is one she learned from one of these friends while she was still in elementary school.

Transcript of video:

“This is Buggy!

Buggy says hi!

Buggy can fly!

Yay for Buggy!

Oops, Buggy died.”

Analysis: The informant says she learned it only a couple years ago and remembered it because she “thought it was cool” and “kind of funny”. The informant relates that she enjoys many types of art, including drawing and painting, and often is in charge of making signs for events among her friend group, like yard sales and party invitations. So the personal appeal to a young artist or craftsperson is obvious.

I think the general appeal here is similar: the fact that with a few simple drawings and letters, an entire story can be told with little effort. The idea that there are just enough fingers on a person’s hand to write “T-H-I-S” on the knuckles, and then fold different fingers to show different words, must be appealing to kids who are just starting to appreciate the difficulties of both language and tactile crafts such as beading, painting, or cursive handwriting. The simple story is also humorous and a common enough occurrence: trying to save a little bug only to find that you unfortunately don’t know your own strength; or simply the humor of seeing something that causes many small children, especially girls, some anxiety–“creepy crawlies”–being put out in such a messy and unceremonious manner helps them cope with those anxieties indirectly while not being called out as a “scaredy cat” or a “sissy”.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

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.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

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.

Life cycle
Riddle

Humpty Dumpty

Me: Can you tell me some familiar story or rhyme you remember?

Informant:       “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.”

Me: When did you hear this?

Informant: “This nursery rhyme was something I heard in grade school.”

The informant thought of this rhyme first when prompted for a piece of folklore, and demonstrated that despite an inter-cultural upbringing, this rhyme still featured prominently in her childhood. It would seem the Mother Goose style nursery rhymes, of which this is one, have become globalized and are no longer a purely western phenomenon, since despite an international heritage, the informant still seemed to associate their childhood most strongly with this rhyme, and recited it in its traditional form.

Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Miss Suzie’s Steamboat

Miss Suzie had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell (toot toot) 
Miss Suzie went to heaven 
The steamboat went to 
Hello operator, please give me number 9
If you disconnect me, I’ll chop off your 
Behind the refrigerator laid a piece of glass 
Miss Suzie sat upon it and broke her little
Ask me no more questions, please give me no more lies 
The boys are in bathroom pulling down their 
Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park 
Miss Suzie and her boyfriend are kissing in the DARK DARK DARK! 
Is like a movie, a movie’s like a show, a show is on TV 
And that’s all I know know know!

This is one of the many chants that is recited with a certain clapping pattern that I learned in elementary school.  Back then, many girls would say these chants during recess as a way of spending their free time.  I remember learning it from my best friend, who had learned it from other girls in her class.  Once we both knew it, we would frequently play this clapping game, whether we were at school or at each other’s houses.  It was a way of passing time when we were bored.
Looking back at my elementary school days, chanting this rhyme was extremely enjoyable.  Not only did it help ease my boredom, but it also provided me with fun.  Chanting the words with my friends made me laugh because of the words in the chant.  It implies inappropriate words without actually being inappropriate.
Remembering the chant reminds me of how much fun I had as a kid.  When I hear other kids recite these chants and play clapping games, I remember more specific memories that I had as a child.  This chant gives me a connection to my past.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget this chant because it has been implanted in my brain from reciting it so much.

Game
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Musical

“I Went to a Chinese Restaurant”

Contextual data: When asked about childhood games or rhymes she knew, my informant immediately thought of this game. My informant was born and grew up in Hawaii. She says she first learned this in first grade at school through a friend. She says at the time everyone used to play it. The lines are said simultaneously by two partners, to a simple tune, clapping hands in different patterns every other syllable. At the end of the game, both players freeze, and whoever moves first loses. This can be decided by the spectators surrounding the players, or by one of the players themselves. The following is a transcription of the song’s lyrics (line breaks my addition):

I went to a Chinese restaurant / to buy a loaf of bread. / The lady asked my name, / and this is what I said: / my name is L-i-l-i pickle-eye pickle-eye pom-pom beauty x-y cutie Indiana Jones don’t move!

My informant and I both had difficulty thinking about the significance behind the song or game–in her own words, the game “sounds nice” and “it doesn’t matter when you’re in first grade”–but I’m sure there is some. Perhaps “pickle-eye pickle-eye” is some kind of racial slur against Asian facial features (perhaps the owner of the Chinese restaurant?), and “pom-pom beauty x-y cutie” could reference any number of things, from cheerleading to large breasts. The lyrics are so abstract and seemingly disparate that it’s hard to string them together. Perhaps by this point they’ve changed so much from their earliest forms that it’s actually impossible to pinpoint any original, intended meaning (if there ever was one), and now people find significance in the simple pleasures of playing the game.

Humor
Musical

Chris Travaglini Rhyme

Chris Travaglini has a forty-foot weenie
And he stuck it out the bedroom door
His mom thought it was snake and hit it with a rake
And now it’s only four-foot four
 

This is a rhyme my informant and a group of his friends made up about a classmate when they were in middle school. They made it up at an age when most people are going through puberty and finding ways to deal with it, which would explain why the rhyme is penis-joke based. Also middle school is a time when group-forming, teasing, and bullying are heightened.

Customs
Folk speech
Rituals, festivals, holidays

One For the Money…

The informant is recounting a rhyme/chant her and her cousins would recite when they were younger:
One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!
Uh, I learned it from my cousins, It’s what we’d say right before jumping into this lake we went to every summer. Basically, it made it harder for people to chicken out when we had this whole chant thing going. What it means, I don’t really know, but that’s the context i’ve used it in.
The informant chanted this before doing something frightening and it’s purpose was to bring her group of cousins closer together.
This shows the power of folklore that, by sharing this chant, they are capable of assuaging their fears since they are all experiencing it together.

Annotation:

Part of this phrase was used as the title of the popular Janet Evanovitch novel One For the Money. This use plays on the audience’s familiarity with the phrase. It is used there as a play on words though since it is actually about doing one bounty hunter job literally for the money.

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