Author Archives: Kelly Mettler

Playground Rhyme – United States of America

Miss Suzie had a steamboat

The steamboat had a bell

The steamboat went to heaven

Miss Suzie went to

Hello operator

Please give me number nine

And if you disconnect me

I’ll blow off your

Behind the ‘fridgerator

There was a piece of glass

Miss Suzie fell upon it

And broke her little

Ask me no more questions

Please tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom

Zipping up their

Flies are in the meadow

The bees are in the park

Miss Suzie and her boyfriend

Are kissing in the D-A-R-K D-A-R-K DARK DARK DARK!

The dark is like a movie

A movie’s like a show

A show is like a TV screen

And that is all I know

I know my ma

I know I know my pa

I know I know my sister with the 80-acre bra!

My mom is like Godzilla

My dad is like King Kong

My sister is the stupid one who made up this whole song!

I learned this rhyme during elementary school, sometime during first or second grade (1994 or 1995). It was a popular recess chant, usually done in pairs (sometimes with variation for groups of three or four). As the chant took place, the participants would slap their partner’s hands, and alternately clap their own. This hand slapping pattern remains the same throughout the entire rhyme, except at the “DARK DARK DARK!” portion, when the partners slap each others’ hands three times in a row, punctuating each syllable.

I don’t think any boys participated in this activity. Thus, it was passed down solely from girl to girl, which fits the last line of the chant—implying that an anonymous “sister” made up the rhyme and passed it along to her sister or friends. When my sister learned this song (neither of us can recall if she learned the whole thing from me, or if she learned some of it from others on the playground), she took great enjoyment in saying that I was the “stupid one” as she completed the rhyme.

About a year and a half after learning this song, the recess attendants expressed their disapproval of this ditty, and if anyone was caught doing it, she would get in trouble. As a second or third grader, I thought this was very unfair—although “bad words” were hinted at, they weren’t explicitly said. Taboo words like “Hell” and “ass” were quickly saved by adding an extra syllable or sound to create “hello” and “ask,” respectively. This “Miss Suzie” chant is a good display of children trying to push the limits of authority: how far can you go without actually getting in trouble?

The idea of taboo words seems to leave the song after the proclamation “DARK DARK DARK!” Talking to some of my friends nowadays, the point after this line is where the most variety seems to appear. This implies that the rhyme was added to over time, though the additions maintained the rhyme scheme and rhythm present from the beginning of the song. In fact, I vaguely remember that this particular version of the rhyme is not the one I originally learned in second grade. I think the “godzilla,” “king kong,” and “stupid one” lines were added after I had initially learned the chant, sometime during third grade, probably.

After third grade, students typically stopped participating in chants like these at recess in favor of other games. Rather than being due to developmental changes or varying interests, this might have been due to the recess attendants who wanted to stop us from repeating this chant with its “bad words.”

Mnemonic Devices – United States of America

Treble Clef

Space notes: F A C E (spells “FACE”)

Lined notes: E G B D F (Every Good Boy Does Fine)

(Elvis’s Guitar Broke Down Friday)

Bass Clef

Space notes: A C E G (All Cows Eat Grass)

(All Cars Eat Gas)

Lined notes: G B D F A (Good Boys Do Fine Always)

(Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always)

(Good Boats Do Float Always)

My mother first learned these as a young piano student in the 1960s from her piano teacher. Now as a piano teacher, she teaches these phrases to her students in order to help them become more skilled at sigh-treading. She also encourages her students “to make up their own phrase to help them remember note placement on the staves.”

When I was young, my mom taught me these acronyms as I became more comfortable with the keys—she began teaching me how to play the piano around age 5. Later in middle school, I started playing the violin, and my violin teacher reintroduced the treble clef mnemonic devices to me. Like my mother, she encouraged her students to come up with their own phrases to help them remember the notes.

Generally, these memory tricks are not introduced to the student during the first lesson. Gradually, as the student becomes a bit more comfortable with his/her instrument (in my personal experience, the piano and violin), the teacher will present these phrases to the student. To me, this seems a good measure for avoiding overwhelming a student. Also, once a student has been playing a few things other than scales or two-note songs, the student can see for him/herself that the phrases do work. Seeing the connections on their own, based on their own (though limited) experience probably helps to instill sight-reading skills in the student. Additionally, encouraging students to come up with their own phrases lends some creativity and further thought to the notes on a given staff. With students thinking of their own phrases, the variety of ways to remember the treble or bass clef blossoms, especially when students share their made-up memory devices with their peers who they know are taking music lessons as well.

Houston, Scott. Play Piano in a Flash! New York: Hyperion, 2004.

Page 15, only includes “FACE” and “Every Good Boy Does Fine” for the treble clef.

Workplace Quotes – United States of America

“Change happens one retirement at a time.”

“Put out the biggest fires first.”

“Kill the nearest lion.”

These are all statements that my father has come across in his years as a mechanical engineer. Note that although he resides in Washington, he works in Portland, Oregon. The second and third quotes both deal with the same idea, whereas the first is disconnected from the second two.

In response to the first quote, my dad says, “Many times we can’t or don’t change the way we do things because ‘that’s the way it’s always done.’” By saying that change happens one retirement at a time, it is implied that change is difficult if the coworkers, bosses, or other individuals at the workplace never leave. Staying at one post for a very long time can make a person extremely stubborn and unwilling to enact change, even if altering a procedure or product is desired or necessary. However, once a stubborn person leaves (presumably due to retirement), his or her coworkers can implement the changes they would have wanted to see take place during the retiree’s time at the office. My guess is that this statement is said in reference to others, not to the self—and certainly not in the presence of the person to whom the retirement applies. This is because it may be viewed as a criticism that the person is too stubborn to effect change.

The second two quotes both deal with prioritizing work. In both situations—the “biggest fire” and the “nearest lion”—the greatest threat is what is to be vanquished. The lesson portrayed in these statements is to tackle the most daunting task first, and then move on to the smaller, more manageable ones. In high school, while trying to juggle my extracurricular activities with my schoolwork, I recall my dad telling me to “put out the biggest fire first.” Clearly, these ideas about prioritization do not only belong in a cubicle, and can be relevant to everyday life when there are multiple jobs that need to be handled.

Counting-Out Rhyme – United States of America

Eenie Meenie Miney Moe

Catch a tiger by the toe

If he hollers make him pay

Fifty dollars every day

My mother told me

To choose the very best one

And you are not it!

*underlined syllables/words indicate when to point at a different person

My father thinks he first heard this sometime during elementary school, most likely during third grade. For children, this rhyme is a popular method for choosing who is It in a game of tag, whose turn it will be first, whether to have candy or cookies, or any number of simple decisions.. My mother was present as he recited this rhyme to me, and one variation was immediately present: according to her, you “catch a rabbit by the toe.” My father also mentioned once hearing a variation where the “n-word” (nigger) was substituted for “tiger.” Another variation arises in word choice: “to choose the very best one” versus “to pick the very best one.” However, these variations are not as contrasting as tiger, rabbit, and nigger. Another variation is the last line—sometimes, the word “not” is omitted, depending on how the child was taught, or if the child wants to fix the rhyme so that a particular person will be selected. My brother, age 6, will sometimes repeat the word “not” or move around his pointing finger during an extended “nooooooot” so that he is in charge of selection, rather than the cadence of the rhyme.

The first phrase consists of nonsense words, setting a tone for the following lines both in terms of rhythm and content. You would be hard-pressed to catch a tiger by the toe; I have also never heard of a tiger that could holler. Also, where would a tiger get fifty dollars? “My” mother told me to choose the very best one—but the best one of what? The best tiger? The best counting-out rhyme participant? The nonsensical nature of this counting-out rhyme makes it an apt choice for children to use when making a simple decision. Additionally, the initial phrase, “Eenie Meenie Miney Moe,” is catchy and short enough to make it easily remembered among children.

The fact that the emotionally charged word “nigger” is included in a children’s rhyme may be somewhat startling to some. The idea of “catching a nigger by the toe” brings to mind thoughts of slavery in America, when it was crucial to capture the slaves who tried to flee their masters in the South. However, if we take into account that my father initially learned this rhyme when he was in elementary school, it is interesting to note that this would have been during the 1960s, as the Civil Rights Movement was taking place in the United States. This means that ideas about race would have been fairly prominent, and including a word like “nigger” might have been a response to the social climate in the U.S. at that time.

Myrdal, Gunnar and Sissela, Bok. American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, Vol. 1. Transaction Publishers, 1996.

Page 1438 offers alternate versions of the rhyme documented above. One version discusses catching an “emperor” by the toe, while a couple other versions bring forth the “nigger” term again. The “fifty dollars every day” line reappears as well, but there is no mention of the “my mother told me…” lines from above.

Superstition – United States of America

Cheerleading: The Spirit Stick

Beyond pom-poms, tumbling, and stunting, there exists within cheerleading a superstition. This superstition is about the “spirit stick;” it must NEVER touch the ground. If a squad’s spirit stick does touch the ground, it is considered very bad luck—although the actual consequences are never really specified…it’s just “bad.”

What exactly is a spirit stick? It’s a cylindrical stick about 1.5 inches in diameter and 12 inches long. Often, it is decorated in the squad’s colors, but sometimes spirit sticks are given from one squad to another. At a National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) cheerleading summer camp a couple of years ago, certain squads were given spirit sticks as a result of having done particularly well on a given day. Squads were given spirit sticks based on how well they worked together as a team, how much team spirit they exhibited, stunting prowess, or other qualities. The spirit sticks were handed out at the end of the day, and it was crucial for team members to ensure their stick’s safety until the next day, when the stick would have to be turned in and redistributed to another squad (or sometimes, it would be returned back to the squad it came from).

During meals, while practicing, and even while sleeping, the spirit stick’s safety was always a factor. Many seasoned squad members bring a stuffed animal to cheerleading camp to act as the spirit stick’s “protector.” While the squad is in possession of the spirit stick, it is usually attached to one of the stuffed animals somehow. This way, if the squad needs to work on a routine and set the spirit stick down, the protector will come between the stick and the ground. However, constant vigilance is still necessary. The first time I was at cheer camp, one of the squads set their protector (with spirit stick) down on the ground, and one of the camp instructors walked by and took the protector and the spirit stick away. Later that night, the instructors announced the squad’s punishment for their lack of attention towards their spirit stick: they had to write the instructors’ names all over their arms and legs for the next day of camp. At the end of cheer camp, each squad received an NCA spirit stick as a kind of souvenir for having participated.

I first became a cheerleader just before I turned 14 (spring 2002). During my first year cheerleading, I had no interaction with a spirit stick, but I had heard about them before. The first time I went to cheerleading camp was during summer 2004, and I went again during summer 2005.

Most people outside the realm of cheerleading have heard of a “spirit stick,” largely due to its prominence in a popular 2000 cheerleading movie called Bring It On. In this film, the main character, Torrance is dared to drop the spirit stick in front of the entire cheer camp. As she does this, the seriousness of the spirit stick is satirized, with the camp instructors all diving in slow motion after the spirit stick, in an effort to save it from touching the ground. Later, one of the instructors tells Torrance that whoever drops the spirit stick “goes to Hades.” Throughout the rest of the movie, she feels like she’s cursed from the spirit stick. If anything doesn’t go smoothly for her, she blames it on her dropping the spirit stick.

Cheerleading, in general, is a pretty light-hearted sport. Yes, there is a competitive side to it, but cheerleading is not typically taken very seriously. The presence of the spirit stick is a very serious phenomenon though, contrasting the rest of the nature of cheerleading. Once being a cheerleader myself, I am able to understand the importance cheerleaders place on the spirit stick; however, the whole idea probably seems very silly for those who have never been on a squad. Granted, some cheerleaders don’t take the superstition seriously. As for myself, I didn’t really think that bad luck would come to me if I dropped the spirit stick, but I made sure to handle it with care whenever it came into my possession. The bad luck associated with the spirit stick is unclear—a definite outcome for dropping the spirit stick is never named. Sometimes, the bad luck might be attributed to the cheerleading squad itself, or the sports team they cheer for.

One possibility for the spirit stick is that it is a phallic symbol. Although the sport began as an all-male spirit group, cheerleading has evolved to include females. Currently, females account for the vast majority of cheerleaders in America, effectively making it a “girl’s sport” in some people’s eyes. However, I’m not sure exactly how a status as a phallic symbol would have significance for the superstition about the spirit stick touching the ground—perhaps some kind of loss of power? The origin of the spirit stick, as I learned from fellow cheerleaders, is that the first one was broken from a tree branch and given to a squad that had exhibited tremendous spirit and team unity, because there wasn’t a trophy set aside for this particular category. This origin doesn’t seem to have any kind of gender-related or phallic symbolism basis at all.