Tag Archives: rhymes

Leaves of Three

“Leaves of three, let it be. If it’s shiny, watch your heiny. If it’s hairy, it’s a berry”

This piece of folklore is a saying to talk about how to identify poison oak. If it has three leaves or is shiny with oil, watch your heiny, meaning that it is likely poison oak. If the plant is hairy, it is a berry bush. This piece of folklore is performed typically outdoors and used for a very practical sense. It is a teaching tool to enable people to identify poison oak, whose oil will cause rashes on anyone who touches it with bare skin.

            The subject learned this piece of folklore from Boy Scouts. It embodies the type of preparedness and learning the boy scouts emphasizes and is a very practical way of remembering the qualities of a poison oak plant. The subject learned it from their Scoutmaster during a camping trip. The subject, of course, made use of it as a practical saying which is its intended purpose. They remember it because of their interest in the outdoors when they were younger, which was the reason they joined Boy Scouts in the first place.

            This saying is not just a warning for kids. It represents technical education through oral folklore. Typically, something like this would just be told by another person or read in a book. Instead, this saying was created in order to help people remember their qualities. Because of this, it takes on a different form and really represents the importance of passing down knowledge to the younger generations.

Advent

  • Context: The following informant, S, is a 59 yr. old man with three kids and a wife. Though the family does not identify as Christian, they celebrate Christmas and participate in the Christian tradition of Advent. This conversation took place when the informant was asked about any specific family traditions surrounding holidays. 
  • Text:

S: “So… for those who don’t know… Advent is a Christian celebration… uh… I think it’s tied in to the Twelve Days of Christmas too when you add it up, but I could be wrong… I don’t know about that… but, basically it’s the entire month of December it starts on December 1st and the day is December 25th… where you actually don’t get an advent… oh and each day you get a little… a little gift… sort of leading up to Christmas. But on Christmas day, you don’t get a little gift for Advent, you get your Christmas gifts. Um… and that… for me at least, started when I was… well as long as I can remember with my mom. And she would have an Advent calendar and we would open that up and… I think she had clues for us, if I’m not mistaken… and we would go find the little gift. It was was usually like a piece of chocolate for each of the three of us, I had two brothers… uh… nothing big… and maybe on the weekend a toy… but you know, nothing massive.

And that carried over when I first had, at least for me, I don’t know about my brothers, I’m sure it did, knowing my mom… but when I had my first kids, I started to get a box in November… from my mom… around Thanksgiving time… with all of the gifts and clues to go with them for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. So all I had to do was put the clues in the Advent calendar and run the process, and all my kids loved it… well of course my mom passes away a few years ago and… a couple years before that, I think actually, I started doing the clues myself and getting the gifts and what not.

Me: “What are the clues like?”

S: “Well, it’s a shame, I don’t remember what they were like as a kid. But what I do now… um… I either do a little sort of rhyming scheme sort of couplet thing… or I do a riddle… or I do something to do with the number of the day… umm or some combination of that stuff. Plays on words all the time ‘cus that’s sort of riddling. As [my kids] have gotten older I’ve tried to make it a little more challenging to figure out what it is and hidden them a little bit more… they used to be in plain sight way more often than they are now.”

Me: “And is it like each kid gets a clue or…?”

S: “One clue for the three [kids]. And [my kids] actually rotate, [they] decided to go youngest to oldest… uh [the youngest] does the first, [the middle] does the second, [the oldest] does the third and then [they] rotate through. Uhh…”

Me: “Reading the clues?”

S: “Reading the clues out loud. And then everybody… well it depends what kind of mood people are in… some days [my kids] decide to sit and not participate and sulk, but most days all three of [my kids] go and look, and of course mom, when she figures out the clue, can’t hold herself back and has to yell out where it is ‘cus she’s so proud of herself for figuring it out.”

  • Analysis: This version of Advent is similar to other versions I have heard of. Mainly, I have heard of pre-made Advent calendars with chocolates or small gifts inside each day. The main difference between this version of Advent and others is the addition of clues and hiding the presents. This type of Advent is more of a game, that includes riddles and rhyme schemes that lead to the hidden presents. This is the Advent I grew up knowing, and until I began to go over to my friends houses around the holidays I was unaware that Advent was not a game in all other households as well.

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.

Bubblegum Bubblegum

MR: “Oh…Did you ever play Bubblegum bubblegum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?”

MG: Wait can you explain how it went?

MR: “When you are going to play a game and you need to choose a person, everyone has to put their shoe in the middle (puts foot in middle) then you say …”Bubblegum bubblegum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?” oh and then whoever it lands on has to pick a number and then it continues until that number is reached. Whoever it lands on gets out until the last person is left.”

Context: We were talking about childhood games and this rhyme came up.

Background: Informant is twenty four years old and from the Los Angeles area. RR remembers playing this in school for tag or hide and seek and also with her cousins. She believes she learned this from the other students in her class. Then, she taught this to her little brothers.

Analysis: Children often teach other children folklore. I thought it was quite interesting that regardless of the fact that RR is two/three years older than me, I also learned this rhyme from other children in my school. It shows that folklore can live on for many years and now lives in our memories. This song/rhyme is a common example of children bringing order and structure to their play. This rhyme allows children to choose a leader in a fair way. Because the person it lands on the first time gets to chose a number it leads it up to fate, in a sense, to choose the person who will be “it.” It prevents kids from fighting over being chosen or not being chosen.

Other versions of this include using one’s fist to count rather than one’s shoes. For this version please see: https://www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=2776

Eenie Meenie Miney Moe

The informant is my 9-year-old cousin, who lives in Buena Park, California. I asked her about what rhymes she knew, and she shared this one with me. Though she could not remember where she first heard it, she believes it was from other kids at school when she was younger.
——————–
“Eenie Meenie Miney Moe/catch a tiger by the toe/if he hollers make him pay/fifty dollars every day/red, white, and blue/I choose you.”
——————–
This was particularly interesting to me, because this is a rhyme that is fairly universal in children’s lore. Though these were not the lyrics I remember from when I was younger, I recited a version of this rhyme when I was growing up, and almost everyone I know also knows this rhyme. The fact that this rhyme has been so widespread and also has so many different versions demonstrates the “multiplicity and variation” of folklore as laid out by Dundes. The “red, white, and blue” part of the rhyme was particularly interesting to me, because it made this version specific to the U.S. Because this rhyme exists in the United Kingdom as well as in other English-speaking countries, I thought it was interesting that this version specifically referenced the colors of the American flag. After doing some research, I found that different versions of the rhyme have arisen over time, each of them reflecting the specific time period during which they were invented. For example, during World War II, children in Atlanta recited this version of the rhyme: “Eenie, meenie, minie, moe/Catch the emperor by his toe/If he hollers make him say:/’I surrender to the USA.'” There have also been racist variations of this rhyme using the n-word that appeared in the mid- to late-1800s, around the time of the Civil War.
——————–
For more versions of this rhyme, see “Counting-out Rhymes: A Dictionary” by R. D. Abrahams and L. Rankin. (R. D. Abrahams and L. Rankin, Counting-out Rhymes: a Dictionary (University of Texas Press, 1980)).

Cinderella Jumping Rope Rhyme

The informant is 20-years old and finishing her sophomore year at USC. She is a Business and Music Industry Major, is involved in several on-campus organizations such as Concerts Committees. When she’s not doing her school work or work for clubs, she enjoys running, taking hikes, and going to concerts. She grew up in Washington with her mom, dad, and two younger sisters.

 

Informant: “I guess something I learned from other people would be jump roping rhymes. I was super into jump roping with my friends when I was in elementary school. Even into middle school we would play Double Dutch. It’s just an easy thing to play—jump-roping. Like all we needed to have with us was the rope.”

 

Interviewer: “Do you have a favorite rhyme you want to share?”

 

Informant: “I wouldn’t say I have a favorite…But one I think is really weird. Haha. Probably the most bizarre rhyme that circulated around is one about Cinderella. We would sing:

‘Cinderella dressed in yellow

Went downstairs to kiss her fellow

On the way her girdle busted,

How many people were disgusted?’

And then you’d count off 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Until whoever was jumping rope tripped. And then the song would start all over again.

 

Thoughts: It’s funny that my informant learned this Cinderella rhyme for jumping rope in Washington because I learned the same one in the suburb of Chicago where I grew up. I remember seeing some kids recite it while jump roping, but where I heard it the most was in the figure skating community. I figure skated for ten years and when we had shows, all of the younger kids would convene in a sort of backstage/holding area when we weren’t on the ice. We used to play all sorts of games to pass the time and one game was a one where everyone sat in a circle with their hands touching and we would go around the circle as we sang this song slapping the person’s hand next to us, and when we got to 10, the person whose hand was slapped got out. This seems like a good example of how folklore travels, or of polygenesis, and how it attains different uses and practices as it is spread.