Tag Archives: nursery rhyme

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.”


            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.

There Was a Little Girl


My informant in this case is my grandmother, who learned this rhyme from her mother and believes it was learned from her mother before. From what I know, that side of my family hails from Ireland which is likely where the rhyme originated.


This piece was usually used as a nursery rhyme and as a way for my informant to poke fun at her children in a humorous way. My grandma sings this tune quite often in times of relaxation when joking around is warranted. I specifically remember her performing it to myself and my cousins at family gatherings when we were growing up.

Main Piece:

“There was a little girl that had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!”


This nursery rhyme is an obvious reflection of the extremes of parenting. While parents often claim that bringing a life into the world is the greatest joy that can ever happen to a person, raising children can, at times, seem like a nightmare. In this rhyme, the two sides of that dichotomy are presented in a couplet in order to show that neither can exist without the other.

Chic-ory Chic


My informant, who is my grandmother, learned this nonsense rhyme from her mother, who used it as a lullaby when she was a young girl. She has since passed it on to her children and grandchildren, remembering it as a source of nostalgia and for the satisfaction of its recitation. I also remember that my mother sang it to me when I was younger!


My grandma sings this tune quite often in times of relaxation when joking around is warranted. Specifically, I remember her using it as a lullaby for my cousins and me when we were growing up. I also remember that my mother sang it to me when I was younger!

Main Piece:

“Chic-ory chic chala chala,

Checkoleroma in a bananica,

Balacawalaka can’t you see?

Chic-ory chic is me!”


I think this nursery rhyme has been passed on because of its short length and rhythmic structure, which both work to make it easier to memorize. While it might not have any significant meaning, there is something to be said about the fact that nonsense rhymes like this one can exist and persist over time simply because they’re satisfying to the ear. In the text of the rhyme, alliteration, consonance, internal rhyme, and end rhyme can be recognized. By jamming all of these writing strategies into such a short piece of speech, it is made into something quite nice to hear.

Iranian Nursery Rhyme

Main Piece

Original Script

Phonetic Script

Pinky miguyad, “boxzarit dozdi konam”

Angoshte halghe miporsid, “che chizi ra mitavonim bedozdim?”

Angoshte vasat eztehar mikonad, “chizi bozorg va taloey”

Angoshte eshare miporsid, “che kasi pasokhe khoda ra midehad?”

Angoshte shest pasokh midahad, “man boyad zira man bozorg va ghavi hastam.”


Pinky said, “let me steal do.”

Finger ring asked, “what thing we can steal doing?”

Finger middle declare doing, “something big and goldy.”

Finger pointing asks, “who answer God will?”

Finger thumb answered, “I shall, since I big and strong am.”


The pinky says, “Let us steal”

The ring finger asks, “What can we steal?”

The middle finger declares, “Something big and gold!”

The index finger asks, “Who shall answer to God?”

The thumb answers, “I shall, for I am big and strong.” 


My informant’s mother used to recite this nursery rhyme to her when she was little. My informant says that nursery rhymes pertaining to the fingers are very common in Iran, and there are many children’s books dedicated to giving fingers personalities. This particular rhyme, my informant believes, was local to her family because her schoolmates weren’t familiar with it. She believes that the purpose of this nursery rhyme was to teach her about the existence of roles in society. She associated the physical stature (length and width) of each of her fingers with certain personality traits. For example, the pinky is the weaker person who suggests to sin and steal, the ring finger is the accomplice, the middle finger is the materialist, the index finger is the responsible one who reminds them of the consequences of their actions, and the thumb is the voluntary scapegoat that sacrifices himself so that the hand can succeed.


This nursery rhyme was told to teach children about the types of people in society. My informant cannot recall the first time she heard this from her mother, but can confirm that it was a common occurrence during her playtime hours with her mother. 

My Thoughts 

I think societal roles are an interesting concept to teach children. It is very difficult to try to teach children about the different types of people. Usually, that is learned through experience. I thought of this nursery rhyme as a type of cautionary tale, as if it is telling us to stay away from the pinky, ring and middle finger personalities and make acquaintance with the index finger and thumb personalities. My informant was young when she heard this rhyme, so it seems fitting that her mother would warn her about the different types of people in this world so that my informant can surround herself with good people in school. 

Ambarabà ciccì coccò

Main piece:

«Ambarabà ciccì coccò
tre civette sul comò
che facevano l’amore
con la figlia del dottore;
il dottore si ammalò 
ambarabà ciccì coccò!»

Ambarabà ciccì coccò, three owls on the dresser, which made love with the doctor’s daughter; the doctor got sick, ambarabà ciccì coccò.

[there is not a proper translation as also in Italian it does’t have a metaphorical or deeper sense, as the main purpose is the one for the words to rhyme one with the other and sort of articulate and give rhythm to the count children should do with it]


My informant is a 19 year old girl who was born in Crotone, Calabria(Southern Italy), but who spent most of her lifetime in Bologna (Italy). She claimed this piece to be an “integral part” of her up-bringing and childhood, and while recounting this to me, she naturally started to intone this rhyme, while pointing the fingers to me and the other people present. In fact, this nursery rhyme is usually performed with hand-gestures, in which fingers point people in a group so to ‘do the count’. 

Context: (the context of the performance)

My informant performed this over a dinner, in which other friends were present, and they all started to participate in the ‘practice’.


This nursery rhyme is extremely interesting from multiple perspective. 

First of all, it is something which, despite being directly associated to infantry and childhood, is used by adults as well, especially in the context of folk-speech. For example, if you do not know what to choose between two options, people will say to you “do Ambarabà ciccì coccò” which basically mans ‘do the count’ —something similar to what in English would be toss a coin. 

Another curious aspect of it, it’s its evolution throughout time. I have, indeed, recently discovered that, in the original version, the verse “tre civette sul comò che facevano l’amore con la figlia del dottore” actually was “tre civette sul comò che facevano timore alla figlia del dottore”, which translated would be “three owls on the dresser which intimidated the doctor’s daughter”. This gives a complete new value to the song, as it shows how some means of expressions and communication young children have -like folk-songs or rhymes- are used by them in the attempt of approaching the adult’s world. Int his case, the fact that the three owls, from frightening the girl, make love with her, (beside the strange and quite perverse connotation) transform and include a grown-up thematic into a playful song. In this way, children not only indirectly get closer to a new and mature topic, but they can also be directly advised against certain behaviors. Particularly, little girls are advised not to act like the doctor’s daughter did, who, by making love with the three birds, made his father become ill.