Down by the Banks of the Hanky Panky
Subject: Childhood Game
Informant: Natalie Thurman
Background Information/Context: Natalie used to play this game called “Down by the Banks of the Hanky Panky” when she was younger with her friends.
The following is Natalie’s description of the game to me:
“I used to play this one all the time with my friends. We would all sit around in a circle, close, so that your knees are touching—you would sit criss-cross. And you would put your hands on the knees of the people sitting next to you, palms up. The hand on the knee of the person to your right would be over the hand of that person. The hand on the knee of the person to your left would be under the hand of that person. I feel like that was really confusing—did you understand that? [I say yes.] Ok good. So you have your hands like that—oh my God, this is giving me so many flashbacks—and you start the game. You all start singing the song. It goes like this: [singing]
Down by the banks of the hanky panky
Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky
Singing oops, opps, curly pops
Snap crack-a-doodle and a cur-plop
And while you’re singing it, you bring your left hand, that’s resting on the hand of the person on your left, over their knee—you bring that left hand over to your right side and slap the hand of the person on your right, whose hand is resting on your right hand, which is resting on their left knee, if that makes sense. And you try to go with the rhythm, but towards the end, everyone ends up going as fast as they can so that it doesn’t land on you.
So when the song ends, and you say cur-plop, on ‘plop,’ whosever hand is the last one to be slapped is out, and they’re removed from the circle. Then you just keep going until you get to the last person, and they win the game. It gets really intense though when there’s less and less people. Like, when it gets down to the last two people, it’s so intense, everyone’s energy goes up like times ten. It was really fun.”
When Natalie first started describing the game to me, I immediately knew what she was talking about. I also played this game often with my friends when I was little, but I had completely forgotten about it until she brought it back up. It was particularly interesting to me to hear her actually tell me the lyrics of the song because I remember being a kid and not knowing the exact words that we were supposed to say, so instead, I would just make something up that sort of sounded like what everyone else was saying. I wonder if Natalie did the same thing, or if she told me the lyrics of a version of the song that she and her friends consistently used. It was also humorous for me to watch her try to explain the circle formation, as I could tell how difficult it was to explain in words. I think it’s a game that is much better suited as oral and performance folklore instead of for writing down how the game works. Because of this, the game doesn’t have official instructions, and can change slightly each time someone introduces it to a new set of friends.