Paul Bryant's Reviews > The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren by Iona Opie
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Jan 15, 2013

bookshelves: assorted-rants-about-stuff

I did some anthropological field work a few years ago right in my own house. My daughter Georgia (then aged 9) and her friend Megan were there and they were in the garden doing some complicated clapping rhymes. I got them to tell me what the words were and I wrote down a few of them just like folk song collector would, so here are my favourites (I wonder if the Opies would immediately recognise them). So these are chanted in unison, not sung, whilst performing various stylised clapping and hand movements. To my great horror, they're all about sex, I think :


Eeny meeny destameeny
You are the one for me
Education operation, I like you
Down down down baby
Down by the rollercoaster
Sweet sweet cherry
No place to go
Saw you with your boyfriend
Naughty naughty
Steal some candy
Greedy greedy
Went to school
Got told off
Shh shh shh shh
Bubbles Bubbles
Dirty Dirty, got to get clean
Spotty dotty, you are a dog

2) Apple stickey makes me icky
Makes my heart go 2-4-60
Not because you're dirty
Not because you're clean
Not because you're (make kissing sound)
Behind the magazine
Here comes Susan
With her skirt up tight
She can walk she can talk
She can do what she likes
I bet she can do it with her eyes shut tight

3) We are the London girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear our dungarees
Down to our sexy knees
There's just a boy next door
He put me on the floor
We did it sixty times
And he asked for more
My mother was surprised
To see my belly rise
My daddy jumped for joy
It was a baby boy
It was a horrid thing
We chucked it in the bin
My mother took it out
And shook it all about

[My God, don't let your mother hear that one!:]

This is one of the last remaining genuine oral traditions. Georgia and Megan got this stuff form other kids, and this is exactly the way folk songs used to be transmitted. Which people now get from records. Generations of kids pass on these rhymes with no adult intervention at all. I have a tape of recordings from the BBC archive (the South African Wellington Boot Dance, a quintet of nose-flutes from Java, that kind of thing) and there's a couple of English girls recorded in 1956 doing one of these clapping rhymes - and blow me down, they chant "Not because you're dirty, not because you're clean" too (the rest of it is different). Even in these days of X Boxes and Harry Potter and chatrooms, kids have their own indestructible culture. The boys don't do this clapping chanting thing of course, which lends weight to the idea that the transmission of the great Child ballads was a female thing, not a male thing (& hence for interior, private performance, amongst other women whilst working, perhaps - as opposed to a masculine performance for an audience - anyway that's a whole other theory).

Keen students of pop music will remember that once in 1965 one of these chants got into the American charts :

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Comments (showing 1-36 of 36) (36 new)

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message 1: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse This is a fascinating subject.

message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny I loved the clapping rhymes! Can you post the rest of them too?

message 3: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse Have you got Alice Gomme's "The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland"? It's chock-full of this stuff.

When I was growing up in the Lake District, we played "The Farmer Wants a Wife".

Farmer wants a wife
Farmer wants a wife
Eee I addy o
The farmer wants a wife

(girls in a circle going round one girl in the middle)

As far as I recall, there were several verses which escape me (dog, child, and so on), and as I remember it, with "child" the girl in the middle rushed to grab another girl and drag her into the circle, and that girl would then be in the circle for the next round of the game. But it was a LONG time ago!

message 4: by Jessica (last edited Mar 03, 2009 05:13AM) (new)

Jessica Miss Suzy had a tugboat
The tugboat had a bell
Miss Suzy went to heaven
The tugboat went to....
Hell-o operator
Please give me number nine
And if you disconnect me
I'll chop off your --
Behind the refrigerator
There lay a piece of glass
Miss Suzy sat upon it
And broke her little --
Ask me no more questions
I'll tell you no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom
Zipping up their --
Flies are in the garden
The bees are in the park
Miss Suzy and her boyfriend
Are kissing in the
D - A - R - K
D - A - R - K
D - A - R - K
Dark! Dark! Dark!
The dark is like a movie
A movie's like a show
A show is like the TV and
That is all I know
I think I know my mother
I think I know my pa
I know I know my sister
With the eighty-eight foot bra!

The fact that this does not make a whole lot of sense did not stop my sister and I from chanting it over and over again while endlessly smacking each others' palms and clapping in rhythm....! The refrigerator part has got to be wrong. We must have misheard it, or I'm misremembering it.

message 5: by Manny (new)

Manny Jessica wrote: "Ask me no more questions
I'll tell you no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom
Zipping up their --
Flies are in the garden
The bees are in the park
Miss Suzy and her boyfriend
Are kissing in the
D - A - R - K"

This rhyme has a British variant! In the one I heard long ago (I never used it, being the wrong gender) the lines above went as follows. Sorry if they aren't PC, but the concept wasn't well established yet:

Ask no questions
Tell no lies
I saw a Chinaman
Doing up his --
Flies are a nuisance
Flies are a pest
I saw a Chinaman
Pulling up his vest

I can't remember the rest of it, except that at the beginning, where you have the tugboat, they go to the station, to see the engines shunt. As Paul says, they're all about sex!

message 6: by Buck (new)

Buck A boy's destination
Is to stick his boneration
Into a girl's penetration
For more information
Call the board of education.

I first heard that in high school, so I'm not sure if it's a genuine children's ditty. I hope not.

message 7: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I used to have a pretty good collection of jumprope rhymes. It might've glossed over all the weird sex stuff, though, now that I think of it.

That's gross, Buck! If you said that in grade school, you'd get in trouuuuuble.... Boneration? Really?? Where'd YOU go to high school?

message 8: by Troy (new)

Troy Great observations and great comments!

message 9: by Lori (new)

Lori Do kids still do these?

Here was a big one from my childhood:

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.

They jumped so high, high, high
They reached the sky, sky, sky
And they didn't come back, back, back
'Til the 4th of July, ly, ly!

message 10: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse I remember reading about one LEA (education authority) here in the UK where a charity(?) was experimenting with bringing back old childhood skipping and other games, with rhymes. The report I read suggested that bullying and playground violence had subsequently decreased. Whether that counts as a valid study I couldn't say, but it strongly suggests that much of this tradition has died out.

message 11: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse (although, interestingly, one of the games the children in SIMS2 can play is called "Mary Mack" and it seems to be a sitting and clapping game)

message 12: by Lori (last edited Mar 03, 2009 01:10PM) (new)

Lori And why can't I find the most popular one we had anywhere on the web? I can't remember it that well, but even as a child I knew it to be somewhat sinister. Does anyone remember this one?

My mother told me,
not to kiss a soldier,
and she would buy me,
a rubber dolly

But someone told her,
I kissed a soldier...

And then something dire happens!
Or something like that.

message 13: by Lori (new)

Lori Doris Lessing wrote about how the children were slowly forgetting all these rhymes in her book The Marriages Between Zones 3, 4 and 5.

They are probably dying because parents don't let their kids play on the streets anymore! Instead there are play dates. And scheduled activities.

message 14: by Paul (last edited Mar 03, 2009 01:49PM) (new) - added it

Paul Bryant They play in the school playground. I consulted Georgia (now 12) and she says that girls stop doing the rhymes when they're about 10. As for the rubber dolly, we all remember

369 the goose drank wine
the monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line
the line broke
the monkey got choked
and they all went to heaven
in a little row boat

Another hit song by Shirley Ellis, which includes the rubber dolly :

message 15: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse And the rhymes aren't on tv.

message 16: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Little kids can learn all about sex from the Internet now, which I suppose makes these filthy rhymes less strictly necessary.... Still, something this catchy and trendy'll never die out. As long as little girls are allowed to congregate, they'll do something like this. I bet there's a facebook app.... If there isn't, there should be!

message 17: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse Heh.

message 18: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Also, I was thinking earlier today that the literary technique in the Miss Suzy rhyme is one of my all-time favorite things in the whole world -- what's that called, anyway? When you draw attention to something unmentionable by emphatically dodging, omitting, or disguising the reference to it? Not preterition, but close, maybe. Para- something? What's that called? I love it. I wish I could just talk like that all day long.

There's a great old comical R&B song that's all like that, can't think of the name. Actually, there's probably about a million.... Paul?

message 19: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant The rhetorical device is aposiopesis. I had to look it up...

message 20: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Great! Thanks!

Now what's the song??

message 21: by Sandi (new)

Sandi This is a wonderfully fascinating topic. The cover of the book is really creepy though.

message 23: by Lori (new)

Lori And there it is - the beginning of the drama of the rubber dolly! I got part of it wrong, but close enough. Now my obsession of the day can rest. There was more to it after that. Come to think of it, there were some other clapping songs that had to do with soldiers and baaaaaaaad things happening! May have been the aftermaths of WWII? This was the early 60s....

message 24: by Lori (new)

Lori Jessica - oh wow I remembered yours, tune and all. Not sure about the refrigerator either, but it works.

message 25: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant Georgia says the words are:

I'm taking home my baby bumblebee
Won't my mummy be so proud of me

Ow! that bumblebee stung me

I'm squashing up my baby bumblebee
Won't my mummy be so proud of me

Ew! Bumblebee all over me!

I'm wiping off my baby bumblebee
Won't my mummy be so proud of me

There! No more bumblebee on me!

message 26: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse lol

message 27: by Melody (new)

Melody Jessica, The refrigerator part is real.

message 28: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose I'd never heard of #1 and 2 above. However, the version of #3 we had when I was at school (early 90s) went like this:

We are the london girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear our dungarees
Down to our sexy knees
I met a boy one day
He gave me 50p
He pushed me in a bush
And had it off with me

Can't remember the rest. When I was a kid we had loads and loads, but working in schools, I have never seen or heard kids playing clapping games. I asked some 8-year-olds to show me any clapping rhymes they knew, and they only half-knew one or two. The kids in my school are more likely to be playing wrestlers or Britain's Got Talent.

I wonder if your daughter knows the one that goes High-Low-Chica-low-Chica-low-High-Low? I would be interested to know if that one is still alive.

Similarly the one that goes:

My boyfriend gave me an apple
My boyfriend gave me a pear
My boyfriend gave me a kiss on the cheek
And threw me down the stairs
I threw him over England
I threw him over France
I threw him over (don't remember)
And saw his underpants

Hmm, rape and domestic violence. Lovely!

message 29: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant Just checked wit my principal source and yes, Georgia knows Hi-lo Chicalow, it's a very short one interesting for the particular complexity of the hand movements and rhythm. That's what she said anyway.

message 30: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse I'm pretty sure I heard that bumblebee song being sung at the part of the Broadstairs Folk Week that was for kids.

message 31: by David (new)

David Cerruti Even Tom Waits did Clap Hands. As usual, his hand jive is unorthodox.

message 32: by Laima (new)

Laima Interesting book, Paul. I remember most of these rhymes!

message 33: by Cecily (new)

Cecily What a sheltered childhood I had in comparison!

Judith Johnson I love this stuff! When I was reading it I asked some visiting French schoolkids what they said when they wanted the tickling/fighting to stop (my brothers used to say Pax) - they said Pousse (thumb) which ties right in with the Opie study. Amazing!

message 35: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant yes, the international secret language of children!

message 36: by Emma (new)

Emma We still did all these kinds of things in Canberra in the eighties, and we had plenty of television too - no iPads though... We used to play 'elastics' which was a large elastic band stretched round two girls legs which a third would jump over in complicated ways singing these sorts of things. You'd move the elastic up bit by bit to make it harder. /grandpa Simpson

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