Songs my childhood taught me 1: Rhymes from the schoolyard



Glossophilia is taking a trip down memory lane with a series of posts on childhood songs and rhymes: when we skipped in the school playground, bounced on our parents’ knees, twisted our tongues around gob-stopping riffs, learned our lessons with nifty mnemonics, and recited —  delighted — silly nonsense.

Remember the days of the old schoolyard? If you’re a grown-up boy, you probably just remember the footie and the fisticuffs more than anything else. But we girls will never forget our hours and hours of hand-clapping and skipping-rope sessions,  the longer the better, with no-one ever tripping the rope or missing a beat, breathlessly counting, and chanting the rhymes and songs — often pretty rude — that gave it all reason, shape and momentum …

Rhyme- and song-based schoolyard games are found in every country and culture — basically anywhere that has a spoken language where children are allowed to play freely. Dating back several centuries, rhyming games serve several purposes — linguistic, social and physical — for the nurturing of young, growing minds:  to explore and develop language, to allow and experience an acceptable form of criticism and rejection, to develop physical coordination, and to teach the social behaviors of turn-taking, rule-setting, cooperation, and playful competition. Rhyming games take several forms, falling roughly into these overlapping categories: circle dances (eg. Ring-a-ring o’ roses/rosie); clapping games (A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea); arch or catching or “dipping” games (Oranges and Lemons); selection or counting out games (Ice-cream soda Delaware Punch); and skipping or jump-rope rhymes (Teddy Bear Teddy Bear Turn Around). Childhood rhymes and rhyming games can be traced back to as early as the 17th century in the English language, and like most songs and poetry passed down orally through the generations  — especially those enjoyed by children — the rhymes can be found and remembered in many different national, regional and cultural variations.

Here is a selection of rhymes and games that I remember from my childhood (which was spent variously in England, America, Australia, and the Soviet Union) …


Circle games:


Ring-a-ring o’ roses, A pocket full of posies, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down (British)

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


Selection and counting games (many of these double up as skipping or jump-rope rhymes):


Eenie meenie macaraca – Rare raa dominaca – Knickerbocka lollypoppa – Om pom push


Eenie meenie miney moe – Catch a tigger by the toe – If he hollers let him go – Eenie meenie miney moe


One potato, two potato ,three potato, four; five potato, six potato, seven potato, more


Ingle angle silver bangle, ingle angle oooh; ingle angle silver bangle, out goes you


Ip dip sky blue, I’m it not you


Racing car, number nine, losing petrol all the time; how many gallons did he lose? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.


Rich man, poor man, beggar man thief; doctor, lawyer, Indian chief


Ibble obble black bobble, ibble obble out; turn a dirty dishcloth inside out; once if it’s dirty, twice if it’s clean; ibble obble black bobble, you are out


Bluebells, cockle shells, eevy ivy over! My mother sent me to the store, and this is what she sent me for: Salt, vinegar, peppers. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.


Cinderella dressed in yella, went upstairs to see her fella, made a mistake and kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.


Teddy bear teddy bear turn around; teddy bear teddy bear touch the ground; teddy bear teddy bear tie your shoe, teddy bear teddy bear how old are you? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.


Ice cream soda, Delaware Punch, Tell me the name of my honey-bunch. A, B, C, etc.


Arch or catching songs:

Oranges and Lemons


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: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.

(An alternative – and longer – version begins with the verse: “Gay go up and gay go down, To ring the bells of London town”.)


Who has stole my watch and chain,
watch and chain, watch and chain;
who has stole my watch and chain,
My fair lady?
Off to prison you must go,
you must go, you must go;
off to prison you must go,
My fair lady



Clapping rhymes:


Under the bram bush
under the tree (boom boom boom)
True love for you my darling
True love for me
And when we’re married, we’ll raise a family
With a girl for you and a boy for me
How’s your father? Sexy!


I went to a Chinese restaurant, to buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread
he wrapped it up in a five pound note and this is what he said, said, said:
My Name is L-I-L-I chickle-li chickle-li,
Pompom beauty, extra cutie

Elvis Presley, girls are sexy,
Sitting on the back seat drinking Pepsi


A sailor went to sea sea sea
To see what he could see see see
But all that he could see see see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea


Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man;
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Roll it and pat it and mark it with B,
and put it in the oven for Baby and me


Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old


Three, six, nine
The goose drank wine
The monkey chewed tobacco
on the telephone line
The line broke
The goose got choked
And they all went to heaven
in a little rowboat


One two three together
up together
down together
back side knees together


Ms 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 fifteen 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 didn’t come back back back
til the forth of july ly ly
july dont walk walk walk
july dont talk talk talk
july dont eat eat eat
down by my feet feet feet.



Stella Ella Ola – the version from Staten Island, NY:

Quack a dilly oso quack quack quack
Senorita your momma smells like pizza
Dalor, dalor, I’ll kick you out the door
Dalor 1 2 3 4


Miss Susie had a tugboat
The tugboat had a bell
Miss Susie went to heaven
The tugboat went to…
Hello operator
Please Give me number nine
And if you disconnect me
I’ll kick you in the…
Behind the ‘frigerator
There was a piece of glass
Miss Susie fell upon it
And broke her big fat…
Ask me no more questions
Tell me no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom
Zipping up their…
Flies are the meadow
The bees are in the park
The boys and girls are kissing
Way past after dar-ar-ar-ar-ark!


Charlie Chaplin went to France
To teach the ladies how to dance.
First the heel, then the toe,
Then the splits, and around you go!
Salute to the Captain,Bow to the Queen,
And turn your back on the Nazi submarine!


Have you ever, ever, ever in your short legged life seen a short legged sailor with a short legged wife?
No I’ve never, never, never in my short legged life seen a short legged sailor with a short legged wife.
Have you ever, ever, ever in your long legged life seen a long legged sailor with a long legged wife?
No I’ve never, never, never, in my long legged life seen a long legged sailor with a long legged wife.
Have you ever, ever, ever, in your knock-kneed life seen a knock-kneed sailor with a knock-kneed wife?
No I’ve never, never, never in my knock-kneed life seen a knock-kneed sailor with a knock-kneed wife
Have you ever, ever, ever in your short legged life seen a long legged sailor with a knock-kneed wife?
No I’ve never, never, never in my short legged life seen a long legged sailor with a knock-kneed wife.


 Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard? by Cat Stevens



11 thoughts on “Songs my childhood taught me 1: Rhymes from the schoolyard

  1. Pingback: Links | Loves Where She's Landed

  2. Ron Jordan

    Nebuchadnezzar King of the Jews, chewed tobacco and spit in his shoes-
    Rural Ouachita Parish Louisiana schoolyard

    1. Ron Mark

      What happened to the chant we used to call a friend to play from outside his back door: “Oleeolee-oshunn-free,free,freee”. Chicago, 1947

  3. Rhiannon

    Counting game:

    Zinty tinty figgery fell,
    ell dell dominell,
    zuty putty toory rope,
    am tam toozy joke,
    You are out!
    Eerie oorie, eerie oorie,
    You are out!

    This came down from my great grandma who was Swedish (by the Norwegian border) – it was posited that this was actually something to do with Humpty Dumpty but that seems unlikely.

  4. Sandra

    The McDonalds Hand clap song:

    Big Mac, filet-O-fish, Quarter-pounder, French fries, icy Coke, thick shake, Sundaes and apple pies! You deserve a break today, at McDonalds. And the dish ran away with the spoon…yeah!

  5. Anne Hinchliffe

    It’s been bugging me and a friend the past two days ,we started humming this tune and it’s stuck in our heads ,it’s from way way back to may be earlier than the 50 s
    I seem to remember some of the words ,I thought it was marianeta please don’t roam but can’t find that anywhere he first line is repeated twice and it’s a girls name ,the second line goes on to ding please do t Rome wither wither is your home and so on ,please can you help as it’s doing our heads in lol

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