The following was transcribed from an interview between the informant and the interviewer.
“A sailor went to sea, sea, sea
To see what he could see, see, see
But all that he could see, see, see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea
A sailor went to chop, chop, chop
To see what he could chop, chop, chop
But all that he could chop, chop, chop
Was the bottom of the deep, blue chop, chop, chop
A sailor went to knee, knee, knee
To see what he could knee, knee, knee
But all that he could knee, knee, knee
Was the bottom of the deep, blue knee, knee, knee
A sailor went China
To see what he could China
But all that he could China
Was the bottom of the deep, blue China
A sailor went to Ooh-Wah-Chi-Kah
To see what he could Ooh-Wah-Chi-Kah
But all that he could Ooh-Wah-Chi-Kah
Was the bottom of the deep, blue Ooh-Wah-Chi-Kah
I collected this piece of folklore during an interview while at the informant’s house. The informant, my mother, used to sing this song along with her other friends when she was around the ages of 6-9. She is an African American, and she grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. There are also hand motions that go with this song when ever the word “see” or “sea” is used then you would put your hand to your forehead as if saluting, and you would tap your forehead in time with the words. So, when it says “see, see, see,” you would tap your forehead three times along with the words. This applies to all of the other words if it’s said three times. For “chop,” you would make a “knife” with one hand and “chop” your other arm in time with the music. For “knee,” you would hit your knee. Then, for “China,” you would pull at the corner of your eyes to create narrower eyes. And, lastly, for “Ooh-Wah-Chi-Kah” (I just made up the spelling by the way), you would shimmy. My informant also told me that the “original” song was simply just the first verse, and then she learned other verses of the song through different friends.
The first stanza could have been popular among children simply because it deals with word play. Since young kids would be exploring the English language more as they grow up, word play, homophones, may be words that are especially interesting to young kids. All the other stanzas are different though because they have nothing to do with word play or seem to make that much sense at all. The other stanzas could just show how kids had fun with words. The other stanzas could be more regional, while the first stanza could be more widespread. All the other stanzas besides the first, have words that may be interesting to young kid learning more about the language. Both “chop” and “China” have the “ch” sound which is a special grammar rule in the English language. Also, the word “knee” is an interesting exception to the common rules of English grammar by having a silent k. These words could be forms of exploring the complexity of the English language. The last stanza is the oddest because it does not have to do with the English language, but kids do get to explore different sounds that may just be fun to say. It is also important to note that my informant said only girls would play this rhyme which is common in our culture.