Folk Chant

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones

May break my bones

But words will never hurt me

I am rubber. You are glue

Whatever you say

Bounces off of me

And sticks to you

While Talia acknowledges learning this chant in approximately the first grade, she rarely ever hears it recited anymore. The “sticks and stones” chant is not insulting at all, but rather a clever comeback that is taught by adults as a response to verbal abuse from another child. Talia feels that kids who still use the rhyme (in 6th grade) are viewed as corny and nerdy, but that it used to be an effective comeback during elementary school. Still, the chant has always felt too scripted to her, so she has generally refrained from using it throughout her life.

Clearly, this rhyme has been fabricated and preached by adults in order to encourage kids to refrain from using physical measures in response to insults. The kid reciting the lines is essentially proclaiming immunity from verbal harassment, while the final lines (“whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you”) assert that one who chooses to insult others is an empty person who will eventually feel the pain of the insults. Throughout my youth, I remember adults telling kids that bullies have self-confidence issues and project their negative feelings on others, and the rubber and glue metaphor reinforces the sentiment that those who pick on others receive negative emotional consequences as well. What I find interesting about the rhyme is that it seems like a challenge for a direct physical response, as the child is basically stating that the only way to affect him/her emotionally is through violence (“sticks and stones”). I cannot recall a time in which the chant solicited actual violence, but there is a noticeable contradiction between the opening lines and the grand theme (not to pick on others).