Counting Rhymes





An historical look at counting rhymes, old time games for children and early child development.



Can you think of a childrens game that didn’t begin with choosing teams? Standing in line and waiting for the captain or team leader to choose, one by one, his team mates.

I think we all remember the use of counting rhymes such as eeny, meeny, manny, mo or one potato, two potato, three potato four.

A great deal of cultural history comes to light when studying the old time games, nursery rhyme games and the use of the counting rhymes that are the act of choosing teams. I do hope you enjoy the history lesson. You’ll find it fun, I’m sure, to read all of the rhymes used throughout the many cultures and nations, past and present, and, for the most part, to discover that children everywhere are vastly similar. How rhymes and counting rhymes have played a part in early child development in that it does seem to be the fairest way of assigning the lot of a team.

We all know the common eeny, meeny rhyme, but what is not so well known, is the fact that some of the rhymes have an almost identical form which was being used by children for hundreds of years all over the globe.

That the use of counting rhymes has been common among the children of civilized and semi-civilized races alike is certainly of curious interest. Not only so, but the form of use is nearly always identical.





A leader, as a rule self-appointed, having engaged the attention of the boys and girls about to join in a proposed game, arranges them either in a row or in a circle around him. He then repeats the rhyme, fast or slow, as he is pointing with the hand or forefinger to each child in succession, not forgetting himself, and allotting to each, one word of the mysterious formula. It may be, for example:

Eeny, meeny, manny, mo,
Catch a monkey by the toe;
When he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, manny, mo.

Having completed the counting rhyme verse, the child on whom the last word falls is said to be "out," and steps aside. At each repetition one, in like manner, steps aside, and the one who survives the ordeal until all the rest have been "chapped" or "titted" out is declared "it" or "takkie," and the game proceeds forthwith.

Every culture and/or language seems to have its specific word for “it” Having no study in the differing languages, I can only assume that "chapped", "titted", and "takkie," all mean “you’re it”?





Another form of counting rhyme reported to be from certain parts of long ago Scotland, was for each boy to insert his finger into the leader's cap, around which they all stood. The master of the ceremonies then, with his finger, allotted a word to each "finger in the pie," as he recited:

Eenity, feenity, fickety, feg,
El, del, domen, egg,
Irky, birky, story, rock,
Ann, Dan, Toosh, Jock.

With the pronouncement of the word "Jock," the M.C.'s finger came down with a whack which made the one "chapped out" be withdrawn in a "hunder hurries."







This particular counting rhyme was popular in early America. The alphabet is repeated by the leader, who assigns one letter to each child in the group, and when a letter falls to a child which is the same as the initial of his last name, that child falls out, and this is continued, observing the same plan, until only one child remains, who is "it." Similar forms of this have been found in other cultures as well.







Where the little ones have been in a hurry to proceed with the game, and in no mood to waste time on a counting rhyme developed a faster process of simply saying:

Red, white, yellow, blue, all out but you.

And, thus, by the first reading, the “it” person was chosen. Ah, wasn’t that simple? Of course, this counting rhyme did not work in the choosing of teams. But in games such as hide and seek, where you only needed the “it” person to begin play. This was a perfect rhyme.





More counting rhymes each with their countries of origin noted:

Eenity, feenity, fickety, feg, El, del, domen, egg, Irky, birky, story, rock, Ann, Dan, Toosh, Jock.
Scotland

Zeeny, meeny, fickety, fick, Deal, doll, dominick; Zarity-panty, on a rock, toosh!
Scotland

Eeny, pheeny, figgery, fegg, Deely, dyly, ham and egg. Calico back, and stony rock, Arlum, barlum, bash!
Cumberland

Inty, minty, tippity, fig, Dinah, donah, norma, nig, Oats, floats, country notes; Dinah, donah, tiz, Hulla-ballop-bulloo, Out goes you!
United States

Inty, tinty, tethery, methery, Bank for over, Dover, ding, Aut, taut, toosh; Up the Causey, down the Cross, There stands a bonnie white horse: It can gallop, it can trot, it can carry the mustard pot. One, two, three, out goes she!
Edinburgh

Inky, pinky, peerie-winkie, Hi domin I. Arky, parky, tarry rope, Ann, tan, toozy Jock.
Scotland

Hoky poky, winky wum, How do you like your 'taters done? Snip, snap, snorum, High popolorum, Kate go scratch it, You are out!
American

As I was walking down the lake, I met a little rattlesnake. I gave him so much jelly-cake, It made his little belly ache. One, two, three, out goes she!
American

The following counting rhymes seem to be all of Scotch heritage:

1. Ease, ose, man's nose; Cauld parritch, pease brose.

2. Eemer-awmer, Kirsty Gawmer, Doon i' Carnoustie, merchant-dale. Leddy Celestie, Sandy Testie, Bonnie poppy-show. You—are—out!

3. Eatum, peatum, potum, pie, Babylonie, stickum, stie, Dog's tail, hog's snout, I'm in, you're out.

4. Eerie, orie, owre the dam, Fill your poke and let us gang; Black fish and white trout, Eerie, orie, you are out.

5. A ha'penny puddin', a ha'penny pie, Stand you there, you're out by.

6. My grandfather's man and me fell out, How will we bring the matter about? We'll bring it about as weel as we can, And a' for the sake o' my grandfather's man.

7. Master Foster, very good man, Sweeps his college now and than, After that he takes a dance. Up from London down to France, With a black bonnet and a white snout, Stand you there, you are out.

8. As I gaed up the apple tree A' the apples fell on me; Bake a puddin', bake a pie, Send it up to John Mackay; John Mackay is no in, Send it up to the man i' the mune; The man i' the mune's mendin' his shoon, Three bawbees and a farden in.

9. As I went up the apple tree, All the apples fell on me; Bake a puddin', bake a pie, Did you ever tell a lie? Yes I did, and many times. O-U-T, out goes she Right in the middle of the deep blue sea.

10. Eerie, orie, ickery, am, Pick ma nick, and slick ma slam. Oram, scoram, pick ma noram, Shee, show, sham, shutter, You—are—out!





And more of varying origins and nations:

One-ery, two-ery, tickery, seven, Alibi, crackaby, ten and eleven; Pin, pan, musky dan; Tweedle-um, twoddle-um, twenty-one; Eerie, orie, ourie. You are out!

As I went up the brandy hill, I met my father, wi' gude will; He had jewels, he had rings, He had mony braw things; He'd a cat and nine tails, He'd a hammer wantin' nails.

Up Jock, doun Tam, Blaw the bellows, auld man. The auld man took a dance, First to London, then to France.

Queen, Queen Caroline, Dipped her hair in turpentine; Turpentine made it shine, Queen, Queen Caroline.

Tit, tat, toe, Here I go, And if I miss, I pitch on this.

Zeenty, teenty, halligo lum, Pitchin' tawties doun the lum. Wha's there? Johnnie Blair. What d'ye want? A bottle o' beer. Where's your money? In my purse. Where's your purse? In my pocket. Where's your pocket? I forgot it. Go down the stair, you silly blockhead. You—are—out.

Zeenty, teenty, alligo, dan, Bobs o' vinegar, gentleman, Kiss, toss, mouse, fat, Bore a needle, bum a fiddle, Jink ma jeerie, jink ma jye, Stand you there, you're out bye.

One, two, three, four, Jenny at the cottage door, Eating cherries aff a plate, Five, six, seven, eight.

Zeenty, teenty, feggerie fell, Pompaleerie jig. Every man who has no hair Generally wears a wig.

Mistress Mason broke a basin, How much will it be? Half-a-crown. Lay it down. Out goes she!

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, All good children go to heaven; When they die their sin's forgiven, One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, All good children go to heaven: A penny by the water, Tuppence by the sea, Threepence by the railway, Out goes she!

Me and the minister's wife coost out. Guess ye what it was about? Black puddin', dish-clout, Eerie, orrie, you are out!

Master Monday, how's your wife? Very sick, and like to die. Can she eat? O yes, As much as I can buy. She makes the porridge very thin, A pound of butter she puts in, Black puddin', white clout, Eerie, orrie, you are out!

Inky pinky, my black hen Lays eggs for gentlemen; Whiles ane, whiles twa, Whiles a bonnie black craw. One—two—three, You—are—out!

Eeny, meeny, clean peeny, If you want a piece and jeely, Just walk out!

John says to John, How much are your geese? John says to John, Twenty cents a-piece. John says to John, That's too dear; John says to John, Get out of here!

Lemons and oranges, two for a penny, I'm a good scholar that counts so many. The rose is red, the leaves are green, The days are past that I have seen.

I doot, I doot, My fire is out, And my little dog's not at home: I'll saddle my cat, and I'll bridle my dog, And send my little boy home. Home, home again, home!

Jenny, good spinner, Come down to your dinner, And taste the leg of a roasted frog! I pray ye, good people, Look owre the kirk steeple, And see the cat play wi' the dog!

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Haud the horse till I win on; Haud him siccar, haud him fair, Haud him by a pickle hair. One, two, three, You are out!

Around the house, arickity-rary, I hope ye'll meet the green canary: You say ay, I say no, Hold fast—let go!

Scottie Malottie, the king o' the Jews, Sell't his wife for a pair o' shoes; When the shoes began to wear Scottie Malottie began to swear.

Jock out, Jock in, Jock through a hickle-pin. Eetle-ottle, black bottle; Eetle-ottle, out!

Anery, twaery, duckery, seven, Alama, crack, ten am eleven; Peem, pom, it must be done, Come teetle, come total, come twenty-one;

Enery, twa-ery, tuckery, taven, Halaba, crackery, ten or eleven; Peen, pan, musky dan, Feedelam, Fadelam, twenty-one.

One-ery, two-ery, dickery, Davy, Hallabone, crackabone, tenery, Navy; Discome, dandy, merry-come-tine, Humbledy, bumbledy, twenty-nine, O-U-T, out. You must go out!

One-ery, two-ery, dickery, dee, Halibo, crackibo, dandilee; Pin, pan, muskee dan, Twiddledum, twaddledum, twenty-one; Black fish, white trout, Eeny, meeny, you go out.

Ena, deena, dina, dust, Catler, wheeler, whiler, whust; Spin, spon, must be done, Twiddleum, twaddleum, twenty-one.

Eena, deena, dina, duss, Catalaweena, wina, wuss; Tittle, tattle, what a rattle, O-U-T spells out!

One-ery, two-ery, tickery, ten, Bobs of vinegar, gentlemen; A bird in the air, a fish in the sea; A bonnie wee lassie come singing to thee. One, two, three!







Quite likely, versions of one or more counting rhymes travelled with young adventurers to countries such as America, Australia, South America and beyond, wherever their families roamed. Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in their turn as boys, with other boys of their time, each used a form of counting rhyme in the manner and for the purpose for which they are still in vogue by the boys and girls of our present day.

Nevertheless, it does seem to be an elaborate pre-game, if you will, designed to be acted out more as a prelude to the game which is intended to follow. And that the counting rhyme game, not intending to be a game unto itself, but merely the opportunity of deciding emphatically who shall be “it”, is, in fact, a game unto itself.

Which ones will you choose for your next game?

You can find the whole counting rhyme list here in printable form
(without the history lesson).

Let’s Play!




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Counting Rhymes
Counting Rhymes, Early Child Development and Old Time Games for Children
An Historical Look at Counting Rhymes, Old Time Games for Children and Early Child Development