Suffer Little Children

Have you noticed? Lots of playground chants are truly messed up.

Illustration by Beth

Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down!

There’s a preschool less than a block from my house. Sometimes, when I’m walking to work, I see the preschool kids out on their playground, their chubby legs in shorts, their baby-fine hair shining in the sun. “Ring Around the Rosie” is a huge favorite with these kids—their teacher helps them link hands and walk slowly in a circle, chanting the words until they all…fall…DOWN, shrieking with laughter.

Everyone knows “Ring Around the Rosie.” Even two-year-olds. It’s famous! And possibly maybe totally sinister.

People have been singing “Ring Around the Rosie” for hundreds of years, and while its exact origins are unknown, a popular explanation for this nursery song is that the words refer to the bubonic plague of 1655. Those who believe in this theory argue that a ringed, rosy rash was a symptom of the Plague. People carried posies with them to ward off the stench of dead bodies lining the streets. (A posy can also mean a small bouquet of any type of flower.) The line “ashes, ashes” is interchangeable, according to who taught you the song, with “A-tishoo! A-tishoo!” which has been interpreted as a sneeze, or one of the final you’re-gonna-die symptoms of the Plague. “Ashes, ashes” could refer to the mass burning of the bodies or the black color victims’ skin turned. And then: “We all fall down.” Yep, that’s what happened during the bubonic plague. What a lovely song for children.

Now, the people who really study these things say that the bubonic plague explanation is BS, that it’s all hootenanny and fiddlesticks. But if someone can come up with a better, more fitting, and more interesting explanation for this seemingly nonsensical song that was seemingly invented out of thin air…I’m all ears.

Because this wouldn’t be the first time a children’s rhyme, chant, or hand-clap game had its roots in something seriously creepy. Have you noticed? There are lots of playground chants that are truly messed up.

Childhood isn’t all cookies and teddy bears and straight-to-video Little Mermaid sequels. Childhood can be dark, and children are often fascinated by the creepy, the scary, the deliciously macabre. As kids, lots of us loved scaring ourselves silly with ghost stories and movies and grossing ourselves out with the most disgustingly gruesome things we could think of. In singing ghoulish songs, even if we don’t understand them when we’re little, we learn to deal with facts of life, such as death and pain.

Remember jumping rope to this?

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Here we have an extremely popular jump-roping song about an accused (but aquitted!) axe murderer. Lizzie Borden was suspected of taking a hatchet to her sleeping parents in 1892. Although she was found not guilty, the circumstances surrounding the murders were extremely fishy, and the murders remain unsolved.

Why don’t we have nice jump-roping songs about birds and butterflies? Because they’re not as delightfully ghoulish. And really creepy lyrics are easy to remember—they tend to become engraved on our brains. (And then later, that mixture of remembered innocence and creepiness follows us into our adult lives, where movie directors make millions by putting chanting children in movies, mixing playground scenes with horror, or having kids sing innocent-sounding songs during the scary parts of movies! Yay for capitalizing on our youthful nightmares!)

Here’s another one you might remember:

My mother and your mother were washing clothes.
My mother punched your mother right in the nose.
What color was the blood?
Red, blue, yellow, green…

You jump to the colors and stop when you miss.

What?! Who thought it would be a good idea to jump rope to the colors of blood streaming out of your mother’s nose?

And what about the weirdness of grabbing a dandelion, placing your thumb at the base of the flower, and chanting, “Mama had a baby and her head popped off!” for no reason as you pop off the head of the dandelion?

Let’s face it: kids are strange. They utter strange, freaky things, not even understanding what they’re saying at the time. Other kids listen and copy, and BOOM—we have millions of adults wandering around, wondering: Where on earth did this come from? Whose mama had a baby and then proceeded to have her head pop off? Was it from the strain of pushing? What????

Here’s another mystery to ponder:

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back
She asked her mother, mother, mother
For 50 cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump over the fence, fence, fence.

Who is Miss Mary Mack? Why is she dressed all in black? What kind of a dress has silver buttons all the way down just the back, and how come everyone knows this song, but no one seems to know where it comes from? I looked it up online. There is no one, known source for “Miss Mary Mack.” No one knows if she was a real person at all. And yet children have been singing about her for more than 100 years. The two reigning theories about the song are:

1. The first four lines are a riddle, the answer to which is “a coffin.” Eeesh.

2. Miss Mary Mack is a reference to the Merrimack, an ironclad ship built in 1855 that was black with silver rivets. It was burned in the harbor in Porthsmouth, Virginia, during the Civil War.

So, “Miss Mary Mack” is about either a coffin or a burning warship. Cute song for kids, don’t you think?

Last on our list, we have the horrible “Oranges and Lemons,” a British classic that familiarizes kids with the bells of famous churches around London.

“Oranges and Lemons” can be played as a game where children form a tunnel with their arms and catch one another running through the tunnel. But keep in mind that this is a nursery rhyme. A rhyme my mom used to sing to me. Before bed, folks.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

There is no known explanation for the ending of this song. No one knows why the last two lines are like that.

What the hell, people. What the hell. ♦


  • DreamBoat October 19th, 2012 3:57 PM

    Oh my god.

    I always thought “Miss Mary Mack” was weird, and oh god THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.

  • saramarit October 19th, 2012 4:02 PM

    I came across another article on this a few weeks ago, the one about London Bridge really creeps me out

    • periwinkle_dreams October 19th, 2012 5:13 PM

      I read that too! Sometimes the articles on Cracked get a little bit vulgar for my taste, but mostly they’re just hilarious. And I get so many random factoids to throw into conversation from there! lol

  • MADZ. October 19th, 2012 4:04 PM

    “Mommy’s having a baby
    Daddy’s going crazy
    If it’s a boy I’ll give it a toy
    And if it’s a girl I’ll give it a curl
    if its a twin
    I’ll roll it up in toilet paper,
    throw it down the escalator.”

    that’s what we used to sing……. Sometimes I do feel the urge to throw misbehaved children down escalators, but not just for the sake of them being twins…

  • shelley October 19th, 2012 4:07 PM

    When I was little my grandad used to always sing this song to me, I have no idea why but it’s so so weird

    “Charlie charlie chuck chuck chuck,
    went to bed with three fat ducks,
    one died,
    the other cried,
    Charlie charlie chuck chuck chuck”

    surely my sweet lovely grandad wasn’t singing about a man who loved birds a bit too much?

  • MADZ. October 19th, 2012 4:10 PM

    “she sat on a hilltop and played her guitar
    he sat down beside her and smoked his cigar
    he said that he loved her but oh how he lied
    they were to get married but somehow she died
    he went to her funeral but just for the ride
    he sat on her tombstone and laughed til he cried
    the tombstone fell over and SPLIT SPLAT he died
    the moral of the story is never trust guys (I’ve also heard “never tell lies”…)”

    the baby shark song about a shark attack that’s often sung on Girl Scout trips is another good one…

    • Abby October 19th, 2012 4:54 PM


      • Cerise October 20th, 2012 1:04 AM


    • Loops October 20th, 2012 1:53 AM

      We learned that song in school when I was in grade two, I think. But our version ended with “he went to [hell] and fizzled and fried”. I think my music teacher just added that part on for a sick thrill.

  • Rhiannon October 19th, 2012 4:12 PM

    Haha I honestly don’t know why society hasn’t questioned these more..
    Most of us chanted them when we were little…….. WORRYING

  • Laura Lemon October 19th, 2012 4:13 PM

    the last one IS CREEPY. especially the bit about getting your head chopped off. FUN.

  • Microbyte1 October 19th, 2012 4:14 PM

    i’m from Québec so all our songs were in french. Yes, they were weird but you English speaking people were pretty dark ! lol

  • Sofie October 19th, 2012 4:27 PM

    Title of the post….that song seriously gives me the creeps, the ending lines and the children crying,and all the information I read about the moors murders and how they still resonate and are discussed in my part of the world. One of the saddest smiths songs, much sadder than Morrissey moping about his own “love” life(I’m a big smiths fan btw)

  • Abby October 19th, 2012 5:01 PM

    GUYS. This is amazing. I knew all of this stuff… And ALSO, there’s this one:

    Rockabye baby, in the treetops,
    when the wind blows, your cradle will rock,
    when the bow breaks, your cradle will fall,
    and down will come baby, cradle and all.

    And this is a LULLABY. A LULLABY!!!!

    Also also, an alternative (and I’ve been told an original) ending to Miss Mary Mack is:

    She cannot read, read, read,
    she cannot write, write, write,
    and so she smokes, smokes, smokes,
    her father’s pipe, pipe, pipe.


  • Nickysperanza October 19th, 2012 5:12 PM

    Not to mention all of the original fairytales, those are pretty gruesome too.

    The little mermaid turned into seafoam

    Sleeping Beauty, Aurora, was raped in her sleep

    And Cinderella was shipped off to her prince.
    These stories were apparently used to teach children the horrors of the world. And those nursery rhymes were actually a means of getting the word our when something happened. But in code.

    • MADZ. October 19th, 2012 5:51 PM

      …not to mention Blue Beard… Disney couldn’t manage to make THAT one alright.

    • jeans kinda girl October 19th, 2012 8:21 PM

      My whole English class discussion topic last year was about how people used to teach their children the skills needed to survive and the dangers of the world through storytelling. Have you noticed the major symbolism in the Little Red Riding Hood?

      • Elle October 30th, 2012 2:45 AM

        Also there are so many great Brothers Grim fairy tales about cannibalism and parent child cruelty it almost becomes funny. Are you supposed to laugh when the title of a fairy tale is “how the children played butcher with one another?”

    • Elle October 30th, 2012 2:42 AM

      Ah that is true, also though, in later drafts of lots of the fairy tales we read, “they” got rid of a lot of things, especially stuff about sex so kids wouldn’t have to read it. (I can only think of one example right now, Rapunzel)

  • ladyjenna October 19th, 2012 5:25 PM

    How about A is for amy who fell down the stairs, b is for boris, assulted by bears? Has anyone done an Edward Gorey Literally the Best Thing Ever? This needs to happen youse guys

  • thefondest October 19th, 2012 5:26 PM

    I’m pretty sure “Ring Around the Rosie” predates the plague.

  • litchick October 19th, 2012 5:40 PM

    I couldn’t remember where I learned Oranges and Lemons… Then I realized that it was recited by a (totally creepy) character in the book 1984!

  • koolkat October 19th, 2012 5:41 PM

    When I was in nursery or reception we used to sing miss mary mack in assembly i think… and we had to whisper it tapping our fore and middle fingers together… but it was longer and different and much creepier! I’m having trouble thinking that’s real now, but I remember it vividly!

    And oranges and lemons is brilliant–clearly George Orwell thought the ending was a bit off too XD

  • ivoire October 19th, 2012 5:59 PM

    yes miss mary mack was always so odd to me! and ring around the posy is a classic. definitely haunting.

  • annamalous October 19th, 2012 5:59 PM

    oooh, that last one reminds me of George Orwell’s “1984.” there’s one for the kids.

  • annamalous October 19th, 2012 6:00 PM

    this was very enjoyable, by the way– you’re right. kids are creepy and gross. that’s what makes childhood all the more fun.

  • alylee October 19th, 2012 6:01 PM

    My favorite was about the influenza epidemic…
    It’s a jump rope rhyme that goes
    I had a little birdy,
    her name was Enza.
    I opened the window,
    and in flew Enza.

  • Sorcha October 19th, 2012 6:05 PM

    I carpooled this morning with my neighbor’s little kids, and they were talking about firing each other out of canons and how their legs would probably be crushed on impact …

  • Jes October 19th, 2012 6:12 PM

    best conclusion to an article, EVER.
    also, I love how creepy little kids are. it’s wonderful. maybe that’s why there are so many horror movies with evil kids in them?

    • Jes October 19th, 2012 6:17 PM

      lololololololololol I just noticed one of the tags for this article is “wtf.” I love you, Krista.

  • raggedyanarchy October 19th, 2012 6:19 PM

    Remembering the way the “baby shark” song ends in a human swimmer getting eaten by the nice little family of sharks. At least that’s how I learned it.

  • ijustreallylikebands October 19th, 2012 6:22 PM

    I knew there was something weird about all those playground chants, and this just proves it!

  • limegreensunset October 19th, 2012 6:24 PM

    just the fact that the title is a smiths reference made me do a little weep of joy. i am i the only one who got that?

  • HeatherB October 19th, 2012 6:43 PM

    My friend and I were JUST talking about how disturbing a lot of nursery rhymes are! I don’t remember any specific ones now, but we seriously freaked ourselves out just reading them. AND WE FOUND THEM NORMAL AS CHILDREN. Whattttt.

  • Jemima October 19th, 2012 6:44 PM

    Aaaand this is why I love Rookie. :D

    creepy, though.

  • paige.xo October 19th, 2012 6:46 PM

    i had a conversation about this not that long ago. kids are strange creatures

  • actressgirl October 19th, 2012 6:58 PM

    Jack and Jill went up the hill…
    to fetch a pail of water…
    It didn’t end well.

  • molassesrotblackstrap October 19th, 2012 7:32 PM

    my grandmother told me that ring-a-round the rosie was for scarlet fever, meaning that ring-a-round the rosie was the scarlet rash you get on your skin

  • oh...hi cindy October 19th, 2012 7:33 PM

    there was this weird hand-game thing that was popular in elementary school called “who killed John F. Kennedy?” and you’d count of your fingers with each syllable of the title and then you’d be like “who killed John F. Kennedy? i killed John F. Kennedy, because he did this to me!”and you’d be left with your middle finger OMG IT WAS SO CREEPY DOES ANYONE REMEMBER IT

    also this article is super great, and sooo true

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 30th, 2012 11:19 AM

      Oh my gosh, EVERYONE was doing that in 3rd-4th grade (mostly 4th) in my school!! The first time I saw someone do it I was so weirded out lol. Good times.

  • littlebirdmo October 19th, 2012 7:58 PM

    OH MY GOD these nursery rhymes are my favorites! Especially Oranges and Lemons. I never understood why the last two lines exist.

  • umi October 19th, 2012 8:04 PM

    omg these are creepy

    i only knew about the rosy one why are theses songs for kids whut

  • Tyknos93 October 19th, 2012 8:29 PM


  • jill October 19th, 2012 8:30 PM

    The only jump rope songs I remember were really sexual… like “Ice cream soda cherry on top, who’s your boyfriend I forgot”.
    Also I remember singing in first grade:

    “Red white and blue
    a boy kissed you
    he took you to the movies
    and undressed you
    Hoochie mama, hoo-hoochie mama!”

    …had no idea what it meant ahaha

  • Frannie Lou October 19th, 2012 8:36 PM

    DUDE this article is so great. The underlying morbidity of so many nursery rhymes and songs made for children has always REALLY FREAKED ME OUT, because it’s just so unsettling to think that so many small children are singing these songs every day without knowing the gruesome details of the stories they’re based off of.

    Gives me da’ CREEPZ. *shudder*

  • AndreaGG October 19th, 2012 8:55 PM

    I’m from Costa Rica, so I know creepy children songs but in Spanish. I remembered this one and I’m translating it:

    Death was one day
    sitting at her desk
    looking for a pen and paper
    to write to wolf.
    The wolf answered
    yes, no…
    Death became angry
    and struck him a shot!

    Yeah, I used to sing this everyday…

  • Ruby B. October 19th, 2012 9:01 PM

    This is so creepy! Love it

  • Feli-city October 19th, 2012 9:07 PM

    When I was little, the girls at my school made a school specific rhyme based on our insistence the school was haunted:
    The blood trickled down the window,
    And trickled down the wall,
    And little Jenny Willow,
    Ran screaming through the halls!
    We jumped rope to that! What!?
    Our general idea was that there was this one staircase landing where an unfortunate little kid was murdered, and the kid’s friend (“Little Jenny Willow”) witnessed it and ran away.
    It was all bunkum, of course. (YES, I checked the records when I was older. No grisly child-murders in my school).

  • Lillypod October 19th, 2012 9:43 PM

    My grandma used to sing “Oranges and Lemons” to me when I was little…but she left out that last line. I’ve never heard that before!

  • Ed October 19th, 2012 9:46 PM

    This isn’t a nursery rhyme, but my mom used to sing me a part of “Oh, My Darling Clementine” before bed. You know, the one that goes
    “Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
    Oh my darling Clementine,
    You are lost and gone forever,
    Dreadful sorry Clementine.”

    And I loved it.

  • Startrish October 19th, 2012 11:12 PM

    My goodness, I read this right before going to bed… I don’t recommend it at all. Also, when I was younger, I remembered reading a story about Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters getting burned and/ or dying in some gruesome way as punishment in the end.
    How lovely.

  • rschatz October 19th, 2012 11:16 PM

    I’m reading this alone in my pitch black bedroom…
    I have a sudden urge to turn on all the lights and hide under the covers.

    In other words… This article is AWESOME!!!

  • Hazel October 19th, 2012 11:51 PM

    This reminded me of something I recently learned in my typography class—before the invention of the printing press, news was shared through songs that often rhymed so that they were easy to remember. As these songs were spread throughout Europe (with the help of minstrels), the words changed as people embellished and added to them.

    So I’m thinking some of these creepy nursery rhymes is probably based on real events but were bastardized past the point of recognition.

  • Ruby A. October 20th, 2012 12:50 AM

    Beth! This picture is just the best!!

  • myownknight October 20th, 2012 2:12 AM

    always heard Miss Merry Mack go

    she asked her mother mother mother
    for a 50 cent piece piece piece
    to go see the cow cow cow
    jump over the fence fence fence

    so odd to see how different they can be in different places! anybody else remember “Hey Mister Mailman”? 

    Hey Mister Mailman do your duty
    she’s a real American beauty
    she can do the can-can she can do the twist
    but most of all she can kiss kiss kiss! (as you say kiss, everyone tries to do a split until someone falls over)

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 30th, 2012 12:23 PM

      Hey Mister Mailman omg!!! That’s the earliest playground song I can remember. My kindergarten friends taught it to me. I vividly remember showing my mom the dance thing, and from then on she’d ask me to do it all the time lol. :D

  • SincerelyWrong October 20th, 2012 5:02 AM

    This just makes me think of the Tick Tock rhyme from Doctor Who. X)

    *sings to self*
    Tick tock goes the clock
    He cradled her and he rocked her
    Tick tock goes the clock
    Even for the Doctor…

    Or how about all the other What Colour Was The Blood? chants? I think there was one about Spiderman…
    the hue of bodily fluids is a popular guessing point in childhood.

  • Rachella October 20th, 2012 9:17 AM

    The other day in my AP Modern Euro class, our teacher told us that Humpty Dumpty is based on the King of England, Charles I, being drawn and quartered during the English Civil War.
    Are there any not-creepy nursery rhymes out there?!?

    • all-art-is-quite-useless October 22nd, 2012 12:14 PM

      but then in Britain we also have Guy Fawkes Night, celebrating the foiling of an assassination plot on James I, and we burn a model of man (yes, a life-sized model of man) on bonfires to represent Guy Fawkes, a plotter who was caught and hung-drawn-and-quatered for treason, so I guess joyous celebration of violence and bloody public executions is kind of culturally ingrained here…

  • FiveDimesForNineLives October 20th, 2012 9:54 AM

    It’s funny becuase you don’t think about the lyrics of things when you actually sing them then when you do your like “Did I really just say that?”

  • vivyzhan October 20th, 2012 10:28 AM

    the last rhyme appears in the novel 1984

  • MR October 20th, 2012 10:50 AM

    Wow, these are all creepy and great! Does anyone remember the song “The Babes in the Woods”? That was so sad and creepy! The uncle wants to murder these two little kids, but the murderers fight about it and leave the kids, who starve to death in the woods. Sad!

  • clairee October 20th, 2012 10:51 AM

    Orange and lemons still sends chills down my spine because of 1984. Ooh shivers, Orwell is so good.

  • a-anti-anticapitalista October 20th, 2012 11:07 AM

    Hah, and I thought the last one was made up by George Orwell for 1984 (I’ve spent most of my life in a spanish-speaking country)

  • WitchesRave October 20th, 2012 12:34 PM

    we used to sing:

    my mother and your mother went to the movies
    my mother punched your mother in the boobies, what colour was the blood


    theres a soldier in the grass
    with a bullet up his ass
    what colour was the blood


    dressed in yella(ow)
    went upstairs to kiss a fella
    by mostake she kissed a snake
    what colour was the blood?


    • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 30th, 2012 11:20 AM

      Cinderella!!!!! I forgot about that one :D

  • GlitterKitty October 20th, 2012 1:32 PM

    I had some seriously creepy songs at my summer camp. There was one about a dying turtle, a bird dying of the whooping cough by coughing his head off, and another one about being eaten by a boa constrictor. Creepy.

  • toria October 20th, 2012 2:13 PM

    Not to mention the lovely boyfriend rhyme

    “My boyfriend gave me apples, my boyfriend gave me pears, my boyfriend gave me 50 cents and pushed me down the stairs

    I have him back his apples, I gave him back his pears, I gave him back his 50 cents and pushed *him* down the stairs”

    because there’s obviously nothing better to skip rope to than chants about domestic violence

    • all-art-is-quite-useless October 22nd, 2012 12:02 PM

      we used to sing this one! did you ever sing goosey goosey gander? it goes:
      Goosey goosey gander,
      Whither shall I wander?
      Upstairs and downstairs
      And in my lady’s chamber.
      There I met an old man
      Who wouldn’t say his prayers,
      So I took him by his left leg
      And threw him down the stairs

  • mollywobbles October 20th, 2012 2:33 PM

    I remember learning a song in infant school about being eaten by a boa constrictor as well!
    I think it went something like:

    I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor
    A boa constrictor
    A boa constrictor
    I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor
    And I don’t like it one bit!

    Oh no, he’s eaten my toe
    Oh gee, he’s eaten my knee
    Oh my, he’s eaten my thigh
    Oh mum, he’s eaten my bum

    and then it carried on until it got to your head and you died.

  • Ben October 20th, 2012 4:34 PM

    wow, i only knew the ring around the rosy one but those are all so creepy! Alot of ones i knew where creepy too now that i think about it! We used to skip rope to
    dressing in yella
    went upstairs to kiss a fella
    made a mistake and kissed a snake
    how many doctors did it take?”
    and then we would count doctors each jump until we messed up.

  • Jessica W October 20th, 2012 11:03 PM

    I swear the only reason nursery rhymes exist is so adults can make fun of children’s naive nature.
    I remember an older relative (or preschool teacher?) who used to tell me a story about how all biological girls get there “boy parts” eaten off by a big alligator shortly after being born. I didn’t think it was sick up until age ten.

    The Lovelorn

  • Rea October 21st, 2012 2:32 AM

    OH GOSH. We have this game here in the Philippines:

    Langit, upa, impyerno
    Saksak puso, tulo ang dugo
    Patay, buhay,
    Umalis ka na sa pwesto mo!

    Which translates loosely to (I got it from the internet):
    Heaven, Earth, Hell
    Stab the heart, out comes blood
    Dead, Alive
    And out you go.

    Pretty creepy. @_@

  • hollyhotdog October 21st, 2012 12:10 PM

    ring a round a roses has an ending:
    fishes in the water, fishes in the sea
    we all stand up with a 1, 2, 3!

    at the end of oranges and lemons, you drop your arms to chop off the head of whoever’s running underneath

  • eliselbv October 21st, 2012 12:57 PM

    The only one I know is “Oranges & Lemon” from Orwell’s 1984. I wondered if there were such songs in french but I don’t think so…

  • thedame October 21st, 2012 3:07 PM

    yeah the ring around the rosy origin is an urban legend (see but regardless, children chanting anything is creepy. i remember my friends used to do this one that starts with “concentrate, concentrate, people are dying, children are crying” and i’ve been trying to research its origins FOREVER because i’m a huge folklore geek but i’ve barely been able to find anything.

  • nicolestrange October 21st, 2012 4:40 PM

    I’m born in Germany and then moved to Switzerland, but I’ve never heard any creepy childhood songs. maybe the German culture isn’t very macabre or they don’t want to be anymore, after what happened in ww2..

    I think those songs are highly interesting & I had goosebumbs while reading them. I just knew the English one because it was mentioned in ’1984′ by George Orwell.

  • Spotty October 21st, 2012 4:49 PM

    the “eeny, meeny, money, mo” rhyme is controversial too, people say its roots trace back to slavery in the United States

  • Kriss October 21st, 2012 6:02 PM

    Oh great, these seemingly innocent chants are a great thing to read during the nightime, when everyone else in the household is asleep and there are strange noises coming from the corridor… nop, I’m not creeped out at all *shivers*

  • marineo October 22nd, 2012 1:31 AM

    Also, camp songs.

    Princess Pat. unless you sing the final verse, which no one ever does, jack and his crew all drown and die.

    My dog rover: about going insane. and just a generally creepy song

    and last but certainly not least:
    Under the bamboo tree. ends with the two lovers committing suicide by blowing themselves up with a gas tank.

    yay! i sing these songs with kindergarteners!

  • all-art-is-quite-useless October 22nd, 2012 11:59 AM

    You used to get “Oranges and Lemons” as a nursery rhyme? We used to sing it as a playground game – two people put their hands together to make an arch high enough the other players to run through, and everyone sings the song while they run through the arch, until they get to the last line of the song and on “HEAD” the arch-people bring their arms down quickly to catch whoever under the arch and “chop off their head” – is this just a british thing?

    • all-art-is-quite-useless October 22nd, 2012 12:00 PM

      *nursery rhyme at bedtime

  • AveryMaria October 22nd, 2012 5:15 PM

    Oh god, I realized this forever ago. They’re just all creepy:

    Rock-a-bye baby – Baby falls out of the tree
    Jack and Jill- Break their heads
    Pop goes the weasel- WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WEASEL?
    London Bridge- Falls down
    Three blind mice- Well, yeah
    Peter puts his wife in a pumpkin and keeps here there?
    The old man bumps his head and never gets up

    Good lord

    • MasterofCeremonies December 23rd, 2012 8:49 PM

      London Bridge is actually about how people would lock people in newly built structures and leave them there to die. It was supposed to bring good luck or something like that.

      “Take the keys and lock them my fair lady”

  • Yayo October 22nd, 2012 5:59 PM

    Oh gosh this creeped me out. I’ve always always hated Oranges and Lemons.

    I remember playing a variation of the colour skipping rope thing, but I don’t remember it being *quite* so violent. Although thinking about it, I’m almost certain it was something to do with blood.

    We sang something about going to a Chinese restaurant and a £5 note, and then some shit about Elvis Presley and how girls have sexy legs.

    And – ‘The farmer wants a wife, the farmer wants a wife, EE-AI-AH-DI-OH, the farmer wants a wife’. The wife then wanted a child, the child wanted a nurse, the nurse wanted a dog and then the dog wanted a bone. At the end, for some freaking weird reason we had to ‘pat’ the bone, where everyone just abused the smallest kid. Fun times.

    The British variation of the ‘Mama had a baby’ one is (as far as I can remember) ‘Polly had a Dolly and her head popped off’ and we used to push the heads of dandelions on the school field.

    We also sang this a lot…
    Miss Polly had a dolly
    Who was sick, sick, sick,
    So she called for the doctor
    To be quick, quick, quick;
    The doctor came
    With a rat-a-tat-tat.

    He looked at the dolly
    And he shook his head,
    And he said “Miss Polly,
    Put her straight to bed.”
    He wrote out a paper
    For a pill, pill, pill,
    and I’ll be back in the morning with a bill bill bill’

    And my personal favourite…

    ‘My friend Billy has a ten foot willy and he showed it to the girl next door. She thought it was a snake so she hit it with a rake and now it’s only 5ft four.’

    That one still cracks me up. I’m literally laughing like an 8 year old as I type.

  • Elle October 30th, 2012 2:46 AM

    What about “the old man is snoring?”

  • vintagewhimsy November 7th, 2012 2:40 PM

    This is so creepy.. I was such a naive child to sing these songs!

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 30th, 2012 10:52 AM

    Extremely creepy and unnerving, indeed! o.O

  • MasterofCeremonies December 23rd, 2012 8:47 PM

    My mother used to tell me this poem when I was younger:

    Who strangled the dog in his collar and chain?
    I did it mama and I’ll do it again
    And I’ll strangle you too when I’m big and strong
    That’s right young man, confess when you’re wrong!

    Morbid, right?

  • October in the chair January 10th, 2013 11:10 PM

    I remember SO many of these..
    and they always creeeped me out.
    also, we used to sing;

    “Mrs Red
    went to bed
    in the morning
    she was dead!”

    along with;

    “Mrs White
    had a fright
    in the middle of the night
    saw a ghost
    eating toast
    halfway up the la-amp post”,

    which is less creepy but still weird…

    And my mum used to play this weird celtic music to me and my sister to put us to sleep when we were little, and the lyrics to one song consisted of a woman who is drowned by her sister, and then her dead body is found by a king (or something similar) who uses her bones and hair to make a harp which then starts to play ALL. BY. ITSELF.

    It just doesn’t get any creepier than that…

    Also, the ‘boa constrictor’ one that someone mentioned is actually a poem by Sheldon Silverstein.