Age: 19 and 15
Residence: Boston, MA and Salt Lake City, UT
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22, 2020
Primary Language: English
- Context: The informants are brothers A, 19, and B, 15. This transcription was taken from an argument between the brothers over the “correct” words to the nursery rhyme about “Ms. Lucy.” The nursery rhyme is used mostly as a schoolyard game, sometimes accompanied by a hand-game the brothers tell me, but in their argument they were only debating the words of the rhyme itself.
B: It starts off ‘Ms. Lucy has a baby, his name was tiny Tim…’
A: No it doesn’t, it goes ‘Ms. Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a…”
B: No that’s not what I’m talking about!
A: Well, what are you talking about?
B: I’m talking about the one mom taught us.
A: Okay, fine, what one?
B: ‘Ms. Lucy had a baby, his name was Tiny Tim
She put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim
He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap
He tried to eat the bath tub, but it wouldn’t go down his throat
Ms. Lucy called the doctor, Ms. Lucy called the nurse,
Ms. Lucy called the baby with the alligator purse
Mumps said the doctor, Measles said the nurse,
Nonsense said the lady with the alligator purse
Penicillin said the doctor, castor oil said the nurse,
Pizza said the lady with the alligator purse
Out went the doctor, out went the nurse, out went the lady with the allegator purse’
A: Okay. Yeah, but I was talking about the other version.
B: What’s your version?
A (B starts singing along):
‘Ms. Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell (ding ding)
Ms. Lucy went to heaven and the steamboat went to
Hello operator, give me number 9, if you disconnect me I’ll chop off your
Behind the ‘fridgerator, there was a piece of glass
Ms. Lucy sat upon it and cut her big fat
Ask me no more questions, tell me no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom zipping up their
Flies are in the meadow, bees are in the park
Ms. Lucy and her boyfriend kissing in the D-A-R-K D-A-R-K
Dark dark dark’
B: I know that one.
A: Is that where you stop?
B: What do you mean?
A: Mine keeps going. It goes…
‘Darker than the ocean, darker than the sea
Darker than the underwear my Mommy puts on me’
- Analysis: I had also learned the Ms. Lucy version that informant B was singing from my mother and many of my friends would play it with me as a hand game on the play ground in elementary school. Once I entered middle-school, the version that informant A sang became popular at school. But at my school, we continued the rhyme even further. We would sing…
‘Me is very special, Me is very great’
And then we would have different variations after those lyrics. Usually ending with…
‘I kicked him over London, I kicked him over France
I kicked him over the USA and saw his underpants’
I think the reason the versions change is because of the intended audience. The first version, presented by informant B, is much more suitable for children. It is funny because of the motif of the alligator purse and the fact that she wants the baby to eat pizza, which is a food often enjoyed by children. The version presented by informant A is much more rich with “inappropriate” lingo. At the end of each verse, it leads into the next by using near rhyme with a swear word. For example “hell” goes to “hello” and “ass” goes to “ask.” In addition, there are sexual references, both to male genitalia and to Ms. Lucy and her boyfriend kissing in the dark. I asked the meaning of the “dark underwear that mommy puts on me,” and there was a consensus that it was referring to underwear stained by period blood. This version of the nursery rhyme often occurs when children are in middle school, which makes sense because that’s often when you start using swear words, have your first kiss, and begin menstruating.
For other versions, visit https://www.bussongs.com/songs/miss-lucy-had-a-steam-boat“Miss Lucy Had a Steam Boat: Nursery Rhymes & Kids’ Songs.” Nursery Rhymes & Kids’ Songs | BusSongs.com, 9 July 2008, www.bussongs.com/songs/miss-lucy-had-a-steam-boat.