Tag Archives: songs

Inny, Minny, Miny, Moe

Dione Surdez Oliver was born in Santa Ana, California in 1969.  She moved to Crooks, South Dakota when she was four years old.  She grew up on her family’s small dairy farm.  At the age of eighteen she moved back to Southern California.  She worked in the music industry for some time as well as a legal assistant for a number of years.  In 2003 Dione decided to pursue her educational endeavors and began studying at Santa Monica Community College.  She transferred to the University of Southern California in the fall of 2006 and was granted the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund Scholarship.  In 2009 Dione graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative writing and a minor in Cultural Anthropology.  She graduated with honors and received the Order of Troy.  She currently resides in Manhattan Beach, California and where she is the director of CrossFit Zen and is working on entering the Masters of Professional Writing program at USC.

Inny, Minny, Miny, Moe

Catch a nigger by his toe

If he hollers, let him go

Inny, Minny, Miny, Moe


This is an oicotype of a very common childhood game.  Usually, it says “Catch a tiger by his toe.”  Dione informed me that this is the original version of the song.  Apparently, it was changed because of how derogatory it is towards African Americans.  As a native Californian, it would make sense that I have never heard this, as California is a little more tolerant state and a lot more diversified than most.  However, I bet that if I travelled to the South or the Midwest I would hear it more commonly.

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.

Sorority Bid Night/Song

At the University of Colorado there is a strong Greek life culture and there are many traditions, which accompany this group of the university.  Many sororities and fraternities have songs that are song at various times of the year, which help signify different bonding moments for the group of guys or girls.  The informant describes that she learned the tradition on her bid night.

On “bid night” for the girls in a sorority all the freshman girls come back to the house in different rooms and take shots.  You also have to dress up in crazy clothes and you get your letters and your official sorority t-shirt with it’s letters.  You aren’t supposed to drink in your letters, but you do anyway.  During the night there is a chant that goes along with the drinking.  The chant goes as such: “Take a shot, take a shot, take a shot like a [insert sorority], if you can’t take a shot like a [insert sorority] can then why is the drink in your hand?”  All of the girls are taught this song and all yell it together at different points of the night.

I find the story of “bid night” for the sorority interesting as it indicates a classic example of a liminal period for the freshman girls who are not yet fully initiated into the sorority, but are not completely outside of the group.  The different traditions of dressing up crazily, taking shots with active sisters of the sorority, and learning and singing songs that have been part of the sorority for a long time indicate the freshman girls’ passage from being just a normal freshman non-affiliated with Greek life, to a full member.  The freshman girl’s earning their letters also indicates their progression in the liminal stage.  This story also shows how big of a role drinking plays in the culture and lifestyle of college kids during the twenty-first century.

Ride that Pony

You stand in a circle with 3 to probably 6 people in the middle.  Everyone sings:

“Ride, ride, ride that pony. Get up and ride that big fat pony. Ride, ride, ride that pony. This is what she told me.”

As they sing this verse, the people in the center dance around like cowboys riding horses.  Then the people going around in the middle go up to a person standing in the circle and sing:

“Front to front to front, my baby.  Back to back to back, my baby. Side to side to side, my baby.  This is what she told me.”

As they sing this, they face their partner in the direction that they sing (front, back, side), and when they finish, the people who were standing the circle switch with their partner who had been in the middle and they repeat the song.  At the end, after a few rounds, you say “everyone in,” and everyone goes around and does it.

The informant learned the song and dance from the seniors in the theatre department at her school when she was in 7th grade.  Before every performance, the director leads a warm up, but then the students do a more fun warm up of their own called the “actor warm-up,” which includes the song above.  The informant explained that they did it as a cast as preparation for the show to raise energy and get excited.  On the closing night of the show, the seniors start in the middle because it is the last time that they will ever get to do the pre-show ritual.  The song and dance is a way for them to bring the cast together regardless of age or experience.

I knew the song also from my own high school where we used it in the same way as a warm-up in what we called cast-bonding.  Instead of having a number of people in the center though, we go one at a time while the rest of the circle claps and cheers.  The ritual helped us to get the younger cast members to break out of their comfort zone and become part of the high school theatre community as a whole.

Polar Bear Underwear Song

“One day someone pooped in his underwear,

couldn’t find another pair, had to wear the dirty pair.

Five days later, eaten by a polar bear,

the next day the polar bear died.”

Polar Bear Underwear Song

The informant learned this from his friend, “a church friend actually.  I think I was maybe in the 5th grade.”  He had forgotten the song, and only recently remembered it when his older sister sang it to him on their road trip together.

He likes the song because it is so nonsensical.  There is no moral to the story.  It’s just funny.  “It rhymes and its got poop in it.  I just realized.  It has a rhyme and to add to the nonsensicalness of it, the last line doesn’t rhyme.  (Laughing) Where did the polar bear come from and why did he die?  Oh my gosh.”  He really enjoys the song even though he is older now.  Sometimes the song pops into his head, but he doesn’t ever really sing it for a particular purpose or to make people laugh.

The song is just fun and silly, but it also covers the taboo of bodily functions.  The song allows them to have a tabooistic discourse even in place as sanctimonious as church.  Children perhaps use the song to talk about “gross things” in a fun way.  With songs, politeness is not necessary all the time.  I like the little song, and I know the kids in my family would really enjoy it as well.

Annotation: In a collection of children’s songs, there is a variation of this:

Five days later she couldn’t find her underwear
Couldn’t find her underwear, couldn’t find her underwear
Ten days later she was eaten by a polar bear
That was the end of her!

G., Marissa. “Children’s Songs Part Three.” N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013. <http://www.kayshapero.net/child3.htm>.

Tic-Tac-Toe Children’s Game and Song

My informant showed me this game in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. She claims to have learned it from her friend, a fellow second grader. She calls it “tic-tac-toe” and usually plays it at school, on the playground at recess and lunch and after school. She says it is played with two people. My informant says she likes and does it because it is fun. She especially likes to be tickled, during the “spider” portion. She also says she likes being able to push someone else around, though her teacher disproves. She says she tries not to hurt others, though, because it is not a good thing to do.


Each participant has both hands together, palms touching. Then, they sing “tic” and swipe the back of their hands against each other. They repeat this motion in the opposite direction and sing “tac,” and do so again while saying “toe.” They then clap their hands, and say “hit me.” Then, they move their right hands above their left, and clap their partner’s hand, saying “high.” They clap their own hand again, again saying “hit me.” They then move their right hand below their left to clap their partner’s hand and say “low.” They then interlace their fingers and turn their palms to their partners. They then touch their palms to those of their partners three times, saying “hit me three times in a row.” They then put their left hands in front of them, palms up, with their right hands curled into fists. They bring their right fists down upon their left hands three times (much like rock, paper, scissors) and say “tic,” “tac,” and “toe” for each downward swipe. They then each choose a symbol to represent with their hands (again, like rock, paper scissors), a fist for “rock,” a flat hand for “paper,” and the index and middle fingers pointed with the rest curled in for “scissors.” They do this until one person has accumulated three “wins.” (To win one must trump the other’s symbol with the winning symbol–paper beats rock, scissors beats paper and rock beats scissors). The person who accumulates these wins, has won all around. He or she turns the other person around, make’s a cross on the other person’s back, juts his or her elbow into their spine three times and then interlaces his or her fingers, and shoves the person from behind. There is also an optional “spider” move that would go between the elbow move and the shove, which consists of tickling the back of the other person’s neck. You can see the game here: TIc-Tac-Toe: Game And the winning ceremony here: TIc-Tac-Toe: Winning Ceremony


”Tic-tac-toe” seems pretty typical—it is a variation on rock paper scissors that has an introductory game. However, this introduction mirrors the conclusion, the winning ceremony. In the introduction the players ask one another to “hit me high/hit me low/hit me three times in a row.” This is a precursor to the end of the game. Once one person wins he/she makes a cross on the other’s back and hits the other “three times in a row.” Then, the hand motion of interlacing fingers occurs again, as the winner shoves the loser from behind. These repeated elements bring forth the most important part of the game: the violence.

Considering the neighborhood in which this piece of folklore was collected and in which my informant lives (the USC surrounding area), it is not terribly surprising to note the prevalence of violence. Even at this young age, my informant and those that play this game with her are aware of the violence surrounding them. Simultaneously, this is a school setting and so violence is strongly discouraged. The way my informant negotiates between these aspects of her environment is interesting. She says she likes being able to shove her fellow students, but also tries not to push them too hard because she believes that hurting others is not a good thing to do (reinforced by her teacher’s disapproval of the game). Furthermore, she also enjoys being on the receiving or losing end. She says that she enjoys having the “spider” crawl up her back. Though this is intended to be scary, she finds it enjoyable. This could indicate that she is in some way playing with fear—that she knows that she will be shoved, elbowed in the back and that a pretend spider will crawl up her back, but she will not be afraid. This mindset takes the fear away from the game and from those things that are intended to incite fear. This could indicate some need or desire to control one’s own fear–a need or desire to deal with surrounding violence by asserting one’s own control over it.

Down By the River Game and Song

My informant taught me this game in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. My teaching partner and I brought up the game I know as “Down by the Banks,” when she shared this oicotype. She says that she learned this game from her friend, a fellow second grader. She says that she plays this game when she is bored, outside, or when her teacher gives her class free-time. She says she likes it because it is fun, and that is also why she plays it.


The students sit in a circle (with 3+ people), legs crossed and hands palms up. Each person should have one palm on top of one neighbor’s palm, and one palm beneath the other neighbor’s palm. So, for example, one’s right hand is above one’s right-hand neighbor’s left hand and one’s left hand is below one’s left- neighbor’s right hand. Then, one person is chosen to start. This person moves his/her hand (whichever hand is on top, in this case the right), and makes contact with his/her neighbor’s palm (in this case, the person’s right). This next person then makes contact with his/her neighbor’s right hand, and the pattern continues around the circle.

While this occurs, the students sing a song. The song can vary in speed, and is often primarily led by one student but sung by all. It goes as follows: “Down by the river with the Hanky Panky, with the bullside jump from bank to banky, with the east side, west side, suicide, pop!”

At the last word, “pop,” the person whose hand is last touched has lost and so must sit outside the circle while the other children continue to play on and eliminate others. In the final round, the students take one hand (again, the right) and hold the other student’s hand and pull their hands toward one student, and then toward the other. Whichever student’s hand is extended by the last word (again, “pop”) is eliminated, and the other student wins the game. You can see an example of this here: Down By The River.


This game is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is intriguing that there is a clear understanding of spatial realms: the “east” and “west side.” Clearly, there is a sense of differentiation and an awareness of neighborhood identity. Also interesting is the phrase “hanky panky.” This phrase usually connotes sexual content, but the rest of the song does not follow up with this theme.

Then, the most interesting part of this piece of folklore is certainly the way it presents violence. The word “suicide” is certainly violent, as is the word “pop” in this situation. The chance mention of suicide points to its existence and prevalence in this neighborhood. Moreover, the use of the word “pop” as a signal of elimination seems especially intriguing, especially directly after the word “suicide.” Clearly, the person who loses is also killed, with a “pop,” a clear reference to the sound of a gun firing.

Considering the neighborhood in which this piece of folklore was collected and in which my informant lives (the USC surrounding area), it is not terribly surprising to note the prevalence of violence. Even at this young age, my informant and those that play this game with her are aware of the violence surrounding them.


Song Parodies

The informant is a caucasian female in her 50s. She was born and raised in England. She, and her three siblings, were raised as orthodox jews. After university, the informant moved to Northern California for graduate school. She later moved to Los Angeles, where she now resides. The informant trained in school as a biologist, but switched to journalism and now works for a large newspaper. She is divorced with one child.

Parody of National Anthem:

The informant heard this parody from her father from a very early age. She would sing it with her siblings and friends. She would sing sometimes at the beginning of films, when the national anthem was played, or in morning assembly at school. The song is sung not in a mean way, but to poke fun at the institution of the monarchy, to show laughing disrespect.


God shave our gracious queen,

God shave our noble queen,

God shave our queen.

Don’t let her whiskers grow,

That wouldn’t be right you know.

God shave our gracious queen,

God shave our queen.

Analysis: This parody represents a certain attitude towards the British monarchy. The informant comes from a liberal academic middle class family. Such people are generally less inclined to be huge supporters of the monarchical institution. They would be likely to adopt an attitude of disrespect and defiance towards the crown. But the song is not spiteful or truly hurtful, projecting a more bemused, and perhaps even affectionate, attitude towards the monarchy, even while viewing it as an institution to make fun of. The parody also represents child folklore and the tendency to explore the forbidden and ridiculous. The children’s song deals with the idea of rebellion against state institution, in an extremely watered down version, by poking gentle fun at the Queen.

Christmas Carol Parodies:

The informant learned these two christmas carol parodies in grade school from her older brother, who learned it from friends. She would sing them with her siblings and friends whenever the tunes came on the radio or the carols were sung in morning assembly. The informant would sing the parodies at home to her parents, who were amused by the parodies.

We Three Kings Parody Lyrics:

We three kings of Orient are,

Tried to light a rubber cigar,

It was loaded and exploded,

Now we’re on yonder star,

Oh, oh, star of wonder, star of light,

Star that sets your pants alight,

Then proceeding through the ceiling,

Guided by thy perfect light.

Good King Wenceslas Parody Lyrics:

Good king Wenceslas looked out,

On the feast of stephen,

Snowball hit him on the snout,

And made it all uneven,

Brightly shone his conk that night,

Though the pain was cruel,

‘Til the doctor came in sight,

Riding on a mule.

Analysis: These two parodies are interesting because they are pseudo-christmas carols being performed in an Orthodox Jewish household. The face that they are parodies probably contributes to their acceptance within the informant’s family: a parody implies poking fun at the subject, so it would have been more acceptable to sing in a household that did not celebrate than traditional secular carols. Also, the English schooling system requires the teaching of religion to all students. It would be impossible for her parents to prevent the informant’s exposure to Christianity, so a greater acceptance of pieces of Christian culture picked up would not be unexpected. These parodies are also part of the trend for children to subvert and push the boundaries of their expected existence. The carol parodies are a subversion of an established tradition, in this case even connected with religion, and use it to explore the ridiculous, rebellious, and off-limits. In “We Three Kings”, the parody refers not only to smoking and pants, which in Britain refers to underwear, but also alludes to violence with “loaded and exploded”. “Good King Wenceslas” picks up similar threads in exploring the physical violence in his nose being struck, but also rebellion by mocking a esteemed figure, designated as “king”.

Folk Song Parody:

The informant learned this song parody from her parents, who were both members of the Communist party in the late 40s, early 50s. They learned this song while at Communist meetings. The song itself is a parody on the English folk song “Green grow the rushes, O”. The informant learned this original version in school choir in grade school, along with other traditional songs. This Communist parody would be sung by the informant’s family most commonly during passover, after the dinner ceremony had concluded. The Passover meal would be concluded by singing traditional songs in Hebrew as well as folk songs added to the family canon along the years. The informant still sings this song at family passovers. The structure of the song, cumulative ascending counting, is similar to a Jewish song, “who knows one”, traditionally sung in hebrew at Passover. The informant herself does not remember all of the words. Her brothers do remember all of it, however, both being of a more political bent.


I’ll sing you one, O,

Red fly the banners, O,

What is your one, O,

One is worker’s unity and ever more shall be so,

I’ll sing you two, O,

Red fly the banners, O,

What is your two, O,

Two two the workers hands working for his living, O

One is worker’s unity and ever more shall be so

(The song’s structure carries on the same through each number up to 13. For each verse the relevant number is substituted into the lyrics. Each number sequence is repeated, with each verse getting longer and longer.)

Three three the rights of man (or the alternative wording – Three three bread, land, and peace)

Five for the years of the five year plan and four for the four years taken

(The song carries on up until 13, but the informant cannot recall the other number verses beyond here.)

Analysis: This song, while a parody, is more of a reinterpretation than a satire. The Communist party in Britain used a traditional folk tune, laying their own lyrics over it, to disseminate the ideas and ideals of the party. As a well known melody already, the reuse of the music would make the song easier to learn and remember. The use of ascending numbers and repetition probably also lends to the song’s ability to be easily learned. This pattern is quite common among folk music, such as the traditional Jewish song mentioned by the informant. The informant’s family’s habit of picking up songs such as this and incorporating them into the Passover ceremony is quite interesting. The family sings secular, even political, songs in a very religious setting. This indicates a fluid attitude towards the performance of religion, even within an orthodox family. It is an example of how identity can be established and reinforced through the use of folklore. In this case, the informant’s jewish identity and more liberal political bent are melded together through the performance of the song parody at Passover.

Holiday Tradition – Hungarian

Zsuzsa, who is originally from Hungary, told me about a Hungarian tradition that happens every year on Easter Monday. “On Easter Monday, boys and men go around town (door to door)—even to unknown people’s house—recite a poem which in fact said that “I have come along way, and I was wondering if I can spray you with perfume.” Then the hostess says “yes” and then they spray the person, and at the same time the hostess brings out a basket of painted and ornamented red eggs or sometimes chocolate. And then if the hostess knows the men or the boys, then she invites them in, and they treat the people with snacks and drinks and the drinks are such that by the end of the evening, the older men get really drunk because every place they went they got something to drink. The older version is that the boys go on to these visits with a bucket of water, and they actually get the girl into a conversation, and then they throw the whole bucket of water on the girl. Since it’s in April, the water is cold since it comes from a well, and the weather is still cold so sit’s quite a shock. Invigorating.”

Zsuzsa sent me a link to a video on Youtube showing this process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2B3oJBTyqY

She also sent me the text for a spraying poem:

“Kerek erdõn jártam
Kék ibolyát láttam.
El akart hervadni
Meg szabad-e locsolni?”

This is loosely translated to:

“I went round-woods
I saw a blue violet.
He wanted to fade
It is to be watered?”

Essentially, according to Zsuzsa, it basically says “Can I spray you?” at the end.

Zsuzsa and I discussed the origins of this tradition. She said the following: “My understanding is that this has to do with the spring festival. Interestingly, when I saw the video of the water throwing, is when I first realized that maybe they were throwing it at her crotch, so it reminded me that maybe the original meaning means to reinstate fertility and celebrate spring fertility. It’s probably been happening for hundreds of years. Hungary has a history of two thousand years, and this probably is a Christian tradition, and it was King Stephen who converted the whole country to Christianity in the year 1000, so we have a 2000 year history, with 1000 years of Christianity. Tradition has its origins in throwing water at each other because it has the idea of renewal in the spring with it, and that slowly changed to perfume throwing. The Biblical origin has that the soldiers were at Jesus’ grave and they were protecting the grave and the women who were around there. When the women saw that Jesus rose, the soldiers were trying to calm them by throwing water at them. Also, the red color of the eggs given out after the perfume spraying has to do with Jesus’ blood, and the coloring and painting of eggs is a worldwide tradition.”

We also discussed the differences between this celebration of Easter and other celebrations. “This is the modern version of what we call Easter Monday. In Hungary, Sunday is when people go to church, and Monday is the day when people socialize and go around with this spraying thing. The big difference I find between that and in the United States is that Easter Monday in the United States is such a regular day but in Hungary Easter Monday is a big holiday. People don’t go to work, they have the day off. And that’s what they go to do, they throw perfume at each other.”

In terms of personal experience with this tradition, Zsuzsa said: “It’s funny when you get that splash of perfume on you, and it’s stinky. Most of the time they use cheap perfume because they are going to use a whole bottle. As a child you start resenting the idea. People then visit for a long time, so the socializing aspect of meeting up with people…sometimes it’s the only time of the year you get visits from people you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s the idea that you get so stinky that you really have to get a big shower and wash your hair at the end of the day because of the perfume smell.”

In terms of this tradition and traditions in general, Zsuzsa is usually “in favor of tradition. I like traditions, I like when people like to maintain and support and practice traditions, be that religious or whatever. I like it. And I’m not one who is good at maintaining or practicing them. So I really love that people do it, but if I had to make the effort I probably wouldn’t. If I were the guy I probably would not go and do it. But as a girl, because they do come to your house, you end up just preparing anyway. I love traditions, I love these cool ceremonies.”


A website dedicated to Hungarian culture, called Hungarotips, has a separate page dedicated to Hungarian Easter traditions, including the spraying.

Lilla Hudoba. Easter Folk Customs in Hungary. Hungarotips. 28 April 2010. http://www.hungarotips.com/customs/locsol.html