Quote of the Day

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe


A children's counting-out game.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe which can be spelled a number of ways, is a children's counting rhyme, used to select a person to be "it" for games (such as tag) and similar purposes such as counting out a child that has to be stood down from a group of children as part of a playground game.

It is one of a large group of similar 'Counting-out rhymes' where the child pointed-to by the chanter on the last syllable is 'counted out'.

The rhyme has existed in various forms since well before 1820 and is common in many languages with similar-sounding nonsense syllables.

Since many similar counting rhymes existed earlier, it is difficult to ascertain this rhyme's exact origin.


The first American record of a similar rhyme is from about 1815, when children in New York are said to have repeated the rhyme:

Hana, man, mona, mike;
Barcelona, bona, strike;
Hare, ware, frown, vanac;
Harrico, warico, we wo, wac.

The rhyme seems to have been unknown in England among collectors until the late nineteenth century, although it was found by Henry Bolton in the US, Ireland and Scotland in the 1880s. He also found a similar rhyme in German:

Ene, tene, mone, mei,
Pastor, lone, bone, strei,
Ene, fune, herke, berke,
Wer? Wie? Wo? Was?

The most common English form seems to be:

Eena, Meena, Mona, My,
Barcelona, Bona, stry,
Air, ware, frum, dy,
Aracy, baraca, we, wo, wack

but there is a well-entrenched version, collected from Durham:

Eena meena mina mo,
Where do all the Frenchmen go?
To the East and to the West,
To the bonny birdie's nest;
Apples in the garden,
fishes in the sea,
if you want a pretty girl
please choose me!

Variations of this rhyme, with the nonsense/counting first line have been collected since the 1820s, such as this Scottish one:

Hickery Pickery, pease scon
Where will this young man gang?
He'll go east, he'll go west,
he'll go to the crow's nest.
Hickery Pickery, Hickery Pickery

More recognizable as a variation, which even includes the 'toe' and 'olla' from Kipling's version is

Eenie, Meenie, Tipsy, toe;
Olla bolla Domino,
Okka, Pokka dominocha,
Hy! Pon! Tush!

which was one of many variants of 'counting out Rhymes' collected by Bolton in 1888.

A Cornish version runs:

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead - OUT.

Another possibility is that the British occupiers of India brought a doggerel version of an Indian children's rhyme used in the game of carom billiards:

ubi eni mana bou,
baji neki baji thou,
elim tilim latim gou.

Another version of this type of rhyme heard sung in English by children in Bombay in 1986 and 1987 and written down by Glen Dryhurst during several business trips was:

Eena, meena, maca-roni,
dee, dye, domi-nony,
It's half past ten,
an old lady came,
she called my name,
is my name.

On saying that last word, the child pointed to was either: "in", "out" or "it" as the case may be.

One theory about the origins of the rhyme is that it is descended from Old English or Welsh counting, similar to the old Shepherd's count "Yan Tan Tethera" or the Cornish "Eena, mea, mona, mite".

There are similar examples of children's rhymes that were collected in England that are more obviously counting rhymes up to ten, such as 'Ya, ta, tethera, pethera, pip, Slata, lata, covera, dovera, dick'.

David Zincavage asserts that the origin is Scottish and posits that the first line of the verse is a corruption of Inimicus animo, a Latin phrase that translates as "enemy of the soul."

The second line uses "nigger" and this goes to early depictions of the devil as black, as opposed to the modern red; we still have references to darkness as being evil.

If you catch the devil by the toe, it won't cause his cloven hoof any pain. If, instead, you've pinched a human's toe instead, he'll yelp, and since you have made a mistake in identifying him, you should release him.

There are considerable variations in the lyrics of the rhyme, including from early twentieth century in the United States of America:

Eeny, meeny, miny moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers make him pay,
Fifty dollars every day.

A distinct version of the rhyme in the United Kingdom, collected in the 1960s, is:

Eeeny, meeny, miney, mo.
Put the baby on the po.
When he's done,
Wipe his bum.
And tell his mother what he's done.

Versions collected in New Zealand in 2002 include:

Eeny, meeny, miny mangi,
Catch a mangi by the tangi.
If he squeals, steal his wheels,
Eeny, meeny, miny mangi.


Eeny, meeny, miny mit,
Catch your girlfriend by the tit.
If she slips, kiss her lips,
Eeny, meeny, miny mit.

source: wikipedia, wiktionary


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