Residence: Buena Park, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/18/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Amharic
The informant is my 9-year-old cousin, who lives in Buena Park, California. I asked her about what rhymes she knew, and she shared this one with me. Though she could not remember where she first heard it, she believes it was from other kids at school when she was younger.
“Eenie Meenie Miney Moe/catch a tiger by the toe/if he hollers make him pay/fifty dollars every day/red, white, and blue/I choose you.”
This was particularly interesting to me, because this is a rhyme that is fairly universal in children’s lore. Though these were not the lyrics I remember from when I was younger, I recited a version of this rhyme when I was growing up, and almost everyone I know also knows this rhyme. The fact that this rhyme has been so widespread and also has so many different versions demonstrates the “multiplicity and variation” of folklore as laid out by Dundes. The “red, white, and blue” part of the rhyme was particularly interesting to me, because it made this version specific to the U.S. Because this rhyme exists in the United Kingdom as well as in other English-speaking countries, I thought it was interesting that this version specifically referenced the colors of the American flag. After doing some research, I found that different versions of the rhyme have arisen over time, each of them reflecting the specific time period during which they were invented. For example, during World War II, children in Atlanta recited this version of the rhyme: “Eenie, meenie, minie, moe/Catch the emperor by his toe/If he hollers make him say:/’I surrender to the USA.'” There have also been racist variations of this rhyme using the n-word that appeared in the mid- to late-1800s, around the time of the Civil War.
For more versions of this rhyme, see “Counting-out Rhymes: A Dictionary” by R. D. Abrahams and L. Rankin. (R. D. Abrahams and L. Rankin, Counting-out Rhymes: a Dictionary (University of Texas Press, 1980)).