Tag Archives: children’s rhymes

Lintu lentää, liitää laataa, kiitää kaataa, hocus pocus pocus!

Informant Background:

My informant, KL, is my mother. Her father was born in Finland and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. She described this nursery rhyme that she remembers from growing up and then passed down to my sister and myself when we were very young.

Piece of Folklore:

Original Wording: “Lintu lentää, liitää laataa, kiitää kaataa, hocus pocus pocus!”

Translation: bird flying, soaring high, diving down, hocus pocus pocus!

This short lullaby would be accompanied with hand movements mimicking a bird flying overhead for the first half (the part spoken in Finnish), followed by the hand “diving down” to snatch the child as a meal, i.e. tickle the child’s stomach or chin during “hocus pocus pocus.”

Analysis:

            I remember giggling to this often as a child. In addition to the tickling itself, as the lullaby was repeated over the duration of my early childhood, there was an aspect of anticipation – I knew the tickling was coming, and so I would burst into laughter before I was even touched. From a larger cultural standpoint, the lyrics of the lullaby reflect a naturalistic element of Finnish culture. There is a concept of the Sielulintu, or soul-bird, which was thought to deliver souls to children when they were born and carry them away when they died, which may be related to this tradition.

Eenie Meenie Miney Moe – Children’s Rhyme

Text:

“Eenie meenie miney moe, 

Catch a tiger by his toe, 

If he hollers let him go, 

Eeine meenie miney moe.”

Context:

JN is a 50-year-old freelance writer in Minnesota, where she grew up as well. I asked her about any traditions she remembers from when she was a child, such as rhymes or things of that sort. She told me that this rhyme was said by kids, “…And whoever it landed on [when they said the last “moe”] was the person who was ‘it’ and we used it for things like tag or jump rope.” 

Interpretation:

This rhyme was a way for kids to “fairly” decide who was “it” during gameplay. Kids really emphasize fairness, and no one likes being “it”, so doing a game like “eenie meenie miney moe” is a way to randomize who is “it”. Even though much of this rhyme isn’t real English words and the phrases don’t make sense, it does rhyme, so it sounds good together and flows well. The words themselves aren’t what give it meaning, instead it is the context in which they are used. And there is variation among this rhyme as well, as I have heard the last line said as “and you are ‘it’” or “and you are not ‘it’” in different situations. Games are fun for children when they are perceived as fair, so little rhymes and other things like this have developed as a way to ensure fairness while also allowing the games themselves to continue. Even if you don’t want to be “it” and put up a fuss, you can’t really argue with “eenie meenie miney moe.” And this rhyme is short and easy to remember and learn, which explains its spread and continued use across long periods of time (at least from when my informant was a kid a few decades ago to when I was a kid about a decade ago). 

Mary Mack

Context:

AS grew up in Ontario, Canada, and remembers playing this clapping game on the playground growing up. This piece was performed as a form of play between two children in coordination with a clapping game. The game consisted of both participants clapping their two hands together, then clapping on of their hands to the other person’s (right hand to right hand) and then repeating, alternating the hand that they clapped against the other participant’s.

Main Piece:

“Oh Mary Mack, Mack, Mack,
All dressed in black, black black,
She asked her mother, mother, mother
For fifty cents, cents, cents, 
She climbed a fence, fence, fence,
She went so high, high, high,
She didn’t come back, back, back,
Till the Fourth of July, -ly, -ly”

Additional Commentary:

“I don’t know why we said fourth of July because that meant nothing to us as kids. But, the point was, is it kept going and going and going and going, and it got slowly faster and faster and faster until one of you messed up. Then you probably slapped ‘em or something, I don’t know. So there were lots of variations on that.”

Analysis:

Both the rhythm of the clapping game itself and the song are relatively simple, so once the game and song are learned, the challenge consists in the ability to maintain coordination of singing and clapping in the correct rhythm while continuously increasing the speed. The song rhymes and repeats in sections, which makes it easier to remember.

AS has no idea what the song was about, but still remembers the lyrics and hand movements decades later. Though, with the general trend of folkloric children’s songs being about taboo topics like sex and death, there are some lines that could point in that direction. The lines “She climbed a fence… she went so high… she didn’t come back… till the Fourth of July” seem like they could hint at something darker, especially since they do not clarify how she came down (climbing or falling). The final line also points the origin of the song in the United States, as the Fourth of July is Independence Day in the US. AS grew up in Canada, so, as she mentioned, the date “meant nothing to us as kids.”

When trying to discern the meaning of the song, it’s important to mention that there are other recorded versions of this song that include different variations on the lyrics. In another version, it is not Mary Mack that climbs the fence and doesn’t come down till the Fourth of July, but instead an elephant that jumps the fence, touches the sky, and doesn’t come back till the Fourth of July. For a recording of that version, refer here: “Miss Mary Mack,” Ian Cabeen, USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 17, 2021. http://folklore.usc.edu/miss-mary-mack-2/

Sana Sana Colita de Rana

Main Piece: 

“Sana sana colita de rana

Si no sana hoy

Sana mañana”

Transliteration:

“Heal, heal, tiny frog tail

If it doesn’t heal today

It will heal tomorrow”

Translation:

“Heal, heal, tiny frog tail

If it doesn’t heal today

It will heal tomorrow”

Background: 

My informant is one of my friends who lives in Miami, Florida, and is of Cuban and Iranian heritage. As a child, my informant could always expect to hear this from her grandmother whenever she got hurt. “Sana sana colita de rana” is a popular rhyme often told to small children across Latinx culture as a way to console them after injuries (like falling and scraping their knees, for example). Along with the song, my informant added, “my family always accompanied it with a kiss on the appropriate wound, so I think it’s kind of the equivalent of when Americans are like ‘kiss your boo boos’.”

Context: 

This childhood rhyme came up when I asked my informant if she knew of any Cuban sayings. I listed a different variation of this rhyme as an example, which she was able to recognize and provide the version she’d grown up hearing. 

Thoughts: 

I remember hearing this rhyme all the time whenever I got hurt as a kid, though I heard it differently. In Mexican culture, or at least how my mother told it to me, the rhyme went “Sana sana colita de rana, si no se te quita hoy se te quita mañana,” which translates to: “heal, heal, tiny frog tail, if [the pain] doesn’t leave you today, it will leave you tomorrow.” Either way, hearing the rhyme brings back nostalgia from when I was little. I agree with what my informant said about kissing the wound being equivalent to what American parents might do, and I think the addition of the rhyme also adds to the notion that this performance is mostly a placebo effect.

That being said, I think the rhyme is an important part of children’s culture, particularly in the way that the content doesn’t make sense; what does a frog’s tail have to do with healing, for example, a scraped knee? Why a frog, specifically, and not a medical professional? The nonsensical element here is key to children’s folklore because it allows them to comprehend the world in a way that only their folk group could understand and readily accept. However, another way to look at it is that the silliness of the rhyme helps the child focus less on their pain and more on trying to understand the contents.

For another variation, see Licea, May 12, 2019, “Sana Sana Colita de Rana – Spanish saying”, USC Folklore Archives).

Dirty Rotten Devil

Background:

My informant for this piece is my grandmother, who learned this song from her father and passed it on to her children and grandchildren. She grew up up in North Central Wisconsin and suspects that it came from one of the men’s groups, likely a fraternity, that her father was a part of there.

Context:

My grandma sings this tune quite often in times of relaxation when joking around is warranted. I specifically remember her performing it down by the water on our family vacations to Lake Kathrine, Wisconsin, during summers when I was growing up.

Main Piece:

“I’m a devil, a dirty rotten devil, put poison in my mother’s cream of wheat! I put a blotch on, the family escutcheon, and I eat *slurp noise 2x* raw meat!”

Analysis:

While this piece of lore could be looked at as great example of how dark comedy can play an important role in the relationships between an individual and their loved ones, I want to consider it through the lens of a parent who’s child is mad at them. Given that a the rhyme uses the word “escutcheon” (the spelling of which I had to Google), I think it’s unlikely that it was written by a child. With that in mind, the parent in this situation is able to satirize the childs anger at them by joking that the child wishes to poison them–while that may not be completely true, it’s possible that the parent feels there’s some truth in the statement. Nonetheless, in noting the amount of chaos that children can cause at times, this rhyme shows the wisdom of a parent accepting that fact in their ability to make light of it.