Rhyme – California

Rhyme – Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe

Eenie, meenie, minie, Moe,

Catch a tiger by his toe.

If he hollers, let him go

Eenie, meenie minie, moe.

This simple rhyme often used by children in order to help them make difficult decisions.  Usually given a number of difficult options, the individual counts off each choice to each word of the rhyme.  In other words, if the child were trying to pick between chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream, he could count off the words of the rhyme, probably pointing to each container as he repeated each word.  The flavor the child is pointing to when he finishes the rhyme is the final choice; it is then implied that the child should pick that flavor.  If he wants extra assurance or does not like the outcome, he may choose to try to start over again.  He may start counting off on a different flavor to try to get a different result.

This is one of the earliest rhymes I can remember.  I learned this rhyme sometime in preschool from my friends.  As I have already noted, I attended a private Lutheran preschool in Palos Verdes, which is a relatively well-to-do neighborhood in Southern California.  I was enrolled there for two years, though I do not know exactly when I learned it, or from whom.  Although I am certain I learned the rhyme in preschool, I am sure that this rhyme is widespread.  When talking about it I soon learned that my friends here in college all knew of it, and even my mother who is nearly forty-eight knew of it.

However, the variant most of my friends knew was slightly different.  They talked about something involving they speaker’s mother instructing him to pick friends; the rhyme ends with the discordant phrase “and you are not it.”  In this variant, the selection which the speaker finishes on is eliminated from the group.  The speaker consequently repeats the process until all the choices are eliminated, and only the final answer remains.  It is quite odd that most of the people learned a different variant than me; perhaps having learned it at such an early age, I was not able to remember the full version.  Perhaps I, having forgotten the last two lines, I simply repeated the memorable opening line.

This well-known rhyme has appeared numerous times in print.  The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, written by Peter and Iona Opie and published by the Oxford University Press, contains many different variants of this rhyme.  The earliest version of this rhyme, although it actually bears little resemblance to the modern version I learned, appeared sometime in the nineteenth century.  It is thought to have originated in either India or Britain.

The exact reason this rhyme is popular is not known.  Perhaps, since every individual inevitably runs into situations where he is faced with a difficult decision, he looks for seemingly impartial ways of picking the correct solution.  By using either the positive selection process which I learned or the elimination variant of Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe, the individual ultimately comes to a final answer.  Children in particular may have particular problem making choice; they often rely on the judgment of their elders to guide them.  Indeed, children are even trained to rely on adults instead of making their own decisions.  By formulating or at least using this clever rhyme scheme, they are able to make a decision on their own, without the input of others around them.