Thursday, November 1, 2012

The REAL Meaning Of "The Spades Go" & "The Space Go" In Playground Rhymes

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised 9/12/2016]

In this post I share my opinions about the origin of the phrases "the spades go" and "the space goes" in playground rhymes. Although examples of "the spades go" in particular can be found outside of playground rhymes, this post is limited to examples of that phrase in children's informal recreational rhymes. Children's rhymes, of course, may also be recited by teenagers and adults.

The content of this post is presented for its folkloric and sociological value.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

I believe that most children who chant rhymes that begin with the phrase "the spades go" didn't in the past and don't currently attribute any meaning whatsoever to those particular words. Instead, children say those words, if not the entire rhyme, by rote memory and focus more on the rhythm and the performance activity.

That said, it's my position that, early on, when a specific meaning was given to the introductory phrase the "spades go", that phrase meant "(This is the way) Black people go (say or do this rhyme). Unlike the idiom "calling a spade a spade"*, no pejorative connotations were/are attributed to the words "the spades go" in children's rhymes. Saying "the spades go" was a way of attributing the words of those rhymes or the way the rhymes were performed to Black people (or more specifically, to Black girls). That attribution lent authenticity to those rhymes and/or to their performance activities. That was because Black girls were (and still are) considered to be the arbiters of "the real way" that those songs or those hand clap rhymes were/are supposed to be sung, or chanted and performed. This was/is partly because Black girls were/are considered to be the sources of many of these rhymes, or were/are considered to be the "coolest" or "hippest" examples of how those rhymes should be performed. This same dynamic can be found in the use of introductory phrases as "the Black people say" or "the Black people sing" in vaudeville songs. And this same dynamic can be found in past and current attitudes that mainstream American (i.e. White America) had/has about Black people being the "go to" population when it comes to learning how to do popular R&B/Hip Hop dances.

I further believe that the phrase "the spades go" predates the phrase "the space goes". I think that "the space goes" is probably a folk etymology form of "the spades go". And I think that "the space goes" was probably made up because "the spades go" was misheard or mis-remembered and not because children thought there was anything socially wrong with saying "the spades go".

*Read for information about the idiom "call a spade a space".

In 2006 I wrote a rather lengthy reply to a question that was posed to me on the Mudcat Folk & Blues forum about my rather tepid reaction as an African American to the phrase "the spades go" in an example of the playground rhyme "Two Lips". (That example is re-posted below as Example #4 in Playground rhymes that include the phrase "the spades go").

To summarize my comment, I indicated that while I have a strongly felt visceral reaction to the pejorative word that is now known as "the n word" -regardless of who uses it- I don't have that same "hit in the gut" reaction to the phrase "the spades go". Here's my summary of my thoughts about this:

1. Even though I believe that the phrase "the spades" is a referent for "Black people", it's not a referent that is used that often in the United States (at least, in my experiences).

2. Because it's children who are reciting rhymes that include the phrase "the spades go", I give them the benefit of the doubt that they don't know the pejorative meaning of "the spades". That pejorative meaning is sometimes alluded to in the colloquial expression "call a spade a spade". The racial meaning of that expression came about because in a deck of playing cards, the spade category of cards is the color black.

3. In the context of children's playground rhymes, the phrase "the spades" has no literal meaning nowadays, but merely serves as an introduction to the rhyme itself.

To read my full comment in that discussion about the phrase "the spades", on that folk music forum, visit
Update 9/12/2016]
Here's a link to an article that cites some history of the use of the word "spade" in Black (African American) culture from 1920 to 2009

I didn't know this information when I wrote those comments in 2006 or when I first published this blog post in 2012. However, while the information in those articles was interesting, it doesn't change the fact that I have had little direct experiences with hearing the word "spades" being used as a derogatory reference for Black people.


The playground rhyme "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa" is a pivotal part of the 1988 movie Big. That rhyme is recited two times in that movie. However, it's only the second recitation of that rhyme that includes the phrase "the spades go".

Here's a transcription of the second rendition of the "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa" rap from

Scene 12 Josh

....Ooh! The spades go, Down! Down! Baby!
Down! Down the roller coaster!
Sweet, sweet baby!
Sweet, sweet delectable!
Shimmy, shimmy cocoa pop!
Shimmy, shimmy rock!
Shimmy, shimmy cocoa pop!
Shimmy, shimmy rock!
I met a girlfriend a triscuit!
She said a triscuit a biscuit!
Ice cream, soda pop,
vanilla on the top!
Ooh Shelly, walking down the street,
ten times a week!
I met it! I said it!
I stole my mother's credit!
I'm cool! I'm hot!
Sock me in the stomach three more times!

The first version of that rap which was chanted by "Billy & Josh" in the movie Big is also found on that same site.

In 2009, the actor Tom Hanks, who starred in the movie Big was asked by the host of a BBC television talk show to recite the "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa" rap. In the beginning of that rap, the actor recites the words "the space goes" instead of the words "the spades go".

Tom Hanks does the 'Big' rap - Friday Night with Jonathan Ross -BBC One

Uploaded by BBC on May 8, 2009

Uploaded by BBC on May 8, 2009

Jonathan's guests are one of Hollywood's most enduring superstars, double Oscar-winner Tom Hanks...
A number of persons who posted comments on that video's viewer comment thread shared their transcription of Tom Hanks' recitation of that Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa "rap". Here's one of those transcriptions:

The space goes down, down baby,
down, down the roller coaster.
Sweet, sweet baby,
sweet, sweet, don't let me go.
Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop.
Shimmy, shimmy, rock.
Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop.
Shimmy, shimmy, rock.
I met a girlfriend - a triscuit.
She said, a triscuit - a biscuit.
Ice cream, soda pop,
vanilla on the top.
Ooh, Shelly's out, walking down the street,
ten times a week.
I read it. I said it.
I stole my momma's credit.
I'm cool. I'm hot.
Sock me in the stomach three more times!
-xxMarz456xx ;, 2009

I formatted this rap into a standard poetry pattern

I believe that the use of the phrase "the space goes" instead of "the spades go" was done on purpose because by the early 2000s there was greater awareness that the words "the spades" could be considered to an offensive referent for Black people.

At least one commenter to that video's viewer comment thread also reached that same conclusion:

bhackett777: "i think its spades(black men) in the BIG verison, tom hanks is just too P.C. now to say that word"
"P.C." = politically correct

(These examples are placed in chronological order with the oldest examples -as identified by their online posting date or the date of the inclusion in an off-line publication-given first.)

I remember parts of this song:

The spades go two lips together
tie them together
bring back my love to me.

What is the me-ee-eening
of all these flow-er-er-ers
they tel the sto-or-or-y,
the story of love,
from me to you.

I saw the ship sail away,
it sailed three years and a day,
my love is far far away,
and I love him so, oh yes I do.

My heart goes bump ba de dump bump,
bump ba de dump bump,
over my love for you.

You are my one and only,
I love you passionately,
Source: Guest, susan; I'm Rubber . You're Glue: Children's Rhymes

The spades the spades the spades go iny miny popsa kiney i love bomaragn a hop a scoth a liver roch a peach a plum i have a stick of chewing gum and if u want the other half this is wut you say: amen amen amendiego sandieago bostn bruins rah rah rah boo boo boo criss cross apple sauce do me a favor get lost while ur at it drop dead either that or lose ur head bang on trash cans bang on tin cans i can u can nobody else can sitting on the bench nuthing to do along comes some one..cohey coochey coo! andu tickle the other person

Source: Sally on Friday, May 6, 2005 - 08:07 pm:

[Note that I'm using the phrase after the introductory words "the spades go" as the title for this rhyme. Also, as an aside, note that this rhyme is written in essay form with little punctuation. For various reasons which are beyond this post, this is an increasingly common online way of writing children's playground rhymes.]

The spades go eenie meenie pop-si-keenie ooh aah ogg-a-lini achi-pachi liver-achi say the magic words, a peach, a plum, a half a stick of chewing gum and if you want the other half this is what u say: amen amen a-man-di-ego san-diego hocus pocus ala-mocus, sis, sis, sis-coom-bah, montana montana rah rah rah, boo boo boo, 1-2, i hate you, criss-cross applesauce, do me a favor and get lost, while ur at it drop dead, then come back with no head.

haha it was a hand game we played at recess...
- Brandy (Post #360);,October 08, 2006

The spades go two lips together
Tie them forever
Bring back my love to me.
What is the meaning of this?
For all the fellows I've kissed
They tell the story
the story of l-o-v-e.
-DebbieO_ (from memories of childhood in near Boston, Mass. in the 1970s); I'm Rubber . You're Glue: Children's Rhymes; December 29, 2006

The spades go eenie meenie
I love boomerini
Otchi kotchi liveraci
say the magic word
a peach
a plum
a half a stick of chewing gum
and if you want the other half this is what you say
amen amen
amendiago sandiago
sis sis sis koomba
sharon and tommy sittin in a tree
bah ha ha
boo hoo hoo
criss cross
apple sauce
do me a favor and get lost.
and then it goes on..
-, 5/20/2009

[Added 8/12/2016]
"Does anyone know a hand clapping song called (I think?) "Ace of Spades"? It goes like this:

Ace of spades goes two lips together,
down and forever
bring back my love to me
what is the meaning meaning meaning
of all the flow-ow-ow-ow-flowers
they tell the sto-o-o-o-story
the story of love from me to you

Then I think it goes back to Ace of Spades, but I don't remember if there are any more verses, and I don't remember the specifics of the hand clapping.

Anyone out there know anything more?

-ratgirl,, May 10, 2010
The "ace of spades" is a particular card in a deck of playing cards. The use of that phrase might confirm that children reciting this rhyme didn't/don't know that the word "spades" was/is used as a (usually derogatory) referent for "Black people".

(These examples are placed in chronological order with the oldest examples -as identified by their online posting date or the date of the inclusion in an off-line publication-given first.)

The space goes true love together
twilight forever
Bring back my love to me
What is the matter?
When we get married
And have some children
We’ll name them
Sandra and Jane
and Billy and Tom
And Betty and Jimmy now,
Source: Let's Slice The Ice (Eleanor Fulton and Pat Smith; St. Louis, Missouri; Magnamusic-Baton; 1978; p. 30 [This is a collection of African Americans' children rhymes from various states.]

“The Space Goes" sounds something like this:
The Space goes
bobo, skee waten taten
ah ah, ah ah boom boom boom
mini mini waten, bobo skee waten,
bobo, skee waten freeze!
::at freeze the players would freeze and whoever moved first lost::
- contortme; octoblog/Whee Blog [This website is no longer active, September 16, 2003

the space goes
apple on a stick just makes me sick make my tummy go 2 4 6
not because im hungry
not because im clean
just because i kiss a boy behind the magazine
hey girls lets have some fun
here comes (name) with his pant undone
he can wiggle he can wobble he can do the twist
but most of all he cant do this close your eyes and count ten if you messs up start ova again
1, 2, 3, 4, ...
Source ; Cece; Octoblog/Whee Blog (This website no longer active); 10/9/2005

Cinderella dressed in yella went up stairs to kiss her fella. She stepped on a crack and broke her back. Tried to stand and cut her hand. How many stitches did it take? The space goes boom boom skitty wat and tat and ah ah ah ah boom boom boom skitty witty wa wa, bubishka wa wa bubishka wa wa pow bang boom. I went to a Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread bread bread. She put it in a half brown bag and this is what she said said said, my name is ki yi yippee yi, yippe yi ki yi humble berry, chocolate cherry, walla walla Washington, chop chop chow
-; assessed on 8/13/2009


The Blacks go down down baby
Down by the roller coaster
Sweet sweet baby
I don't wanna let you go

Shimmy shimmy shimmy shimmy
shimmy shimmy-pop!
Shimmy shimmy shimmy shimmy
shimmy shimmy coke-ca-pop!

[Source: John Langstaff, Carol Langstaff "Shimmy Shimmy Coke-Ca-Pop!, A Collection of City Children's Street Games & Rhymes {Garden City, New York, Double Day & Co; p. 76; 1973}

Portions of this post are lifted from pancocojams posts on
the sources of the rhyme "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa" as recited in the 1988 American movie Big. Click for Sources Of The Movie Big's Rap "Shimmy Shimmy Cocoa Pop for Part I of that three part series on that rhyme. Hyperlinks to the other two posts of that series are found on that page.

Thanks to all those whose rhyme examples are featured on this page. Thanks also to the actors, writers, producers, directors, and others associated with the movie Big. My thanks also to those whose comments are featured in this post, and those who uploaded videos that are featured in this post.

Finally, thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I grew up in Queens and knew this rhyme. When I said "the spades go" I was thinking of cards and the Ace of Spades. This was in the early 70s. We also played card games that if you lost, you picked a random card and if it was red diamonds or hearts , we got beaten bloody and if it was black spades or clubs, we got hit a lot softer. Maybe I am naive but meaning black people when we sang about spades was never my thought.

    1. Hello, janette.

      Thanks for sharing your remembrances and comments about them.

      I think it comes down to the fact that words can mean more than one thing depending on the context, the population, and the times.

      For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, my mother used to say that someone was "ace". That meant that the person was the best (great).

      I've also read that someone was an "ace boon coon" and I vaguely remember my mother saying that too. In that phrase, "ace" again meant someone great [since the ace in card games is a very high ranking card]. I interpreted "boon coon" to mean a good person and didn't know that "coon" was often used as a derogatory referent for Black people.

      All of this, I don't think you were or are naive to have sang that rhyme and not interpreted "spades" to mean "black people". Yet, that doesn't mean that spades was never used as a derogatory or a neutral referent for Black people.

  2. My recollection of The Spades Go is from Harlem on West 144th between 7th and Lenox and Hoe Avenue, the South Bronx, ( the two places I played, home and at my grandparents') circa 1960. From the clapping games where your palms were placed on another's, and according to the rhyme chanted you either slapped your partners palms or clapped your own between in syncopation, switching whose palms were on top or bottom as another part of the performance:

    The Spades go (hold hands and swing)
    Two lips together (slap clap slap [switch] slap [switch] slap)
    Twilight forever (slap clap slap [switch] slap [switch] slap)
    Bring back my love to me ( slap clap slap [switch] slap [switch] slap [switch]slap)
    What is the Me-e-ea –ning ( hold hands, swing. slap clap slap [switch] slap,[switch] slap [switch] slap)
    of all these Flo-ow-ow –wers ( hold hands, swing. slap clap slap [switch] slap,[switch] slap [switch] slap)
    They tell the Sto-or-ory ( hold hands, swing. slap clap slap [switch] slap,[switch] slap [switch] slap)
    The story of l-o and v-e (hold hands, swing. slap clap slap [switch] slap [switch] slap)
    l-o and v-e (slap clap slap [switch] slap [switch] slap)
    l-o and v-e (slap clap slap [switch] slap [switch] slap)
    love cha, cha cha (slap , swing, swing, swing)

    1. Greetings, Akua Lezli Hope.

      Thanks for sharing your recollections of this hand clap rhyme with us. I appreciate your addition of the performance instructions and some demographical information (year and geographical location).

      The name "Akua" is an Akan day name which means "female born on Thursday". I'm guessing from your name and your location of Harlem that you are Black. I'm also assuming that Akua wasn't your birth name. Are these guesses correct (If so, I don't need to know your birth name. I'm just asking for confirmation of my guesses for the folkloric record.)

      Would you please share the age range of those who played this rhyme, whether they were all girls, and how you learned this rhyme. I'm also wondering if you associated any meaning to the word "Spades". For instance, did you recognize "the spades" as more than the title of that rhyme (if indeed it was the title), but as a referent for Black people. And, if so, did you consider it a negative referent?

      Thanks again and best wishes!

  3. Our rendition of this started with the words "In Spain." Isn't that funny? This was in Nashville in the 1960s. And this part went this way:
    Shimmy shimmy puff
    Shimmy shimmy puff
    Shimmy shimmy shimmy shimmy shimmy shimmy Cocoa Puff!

    Granny granny sick in bed
    Called the doctor
    This is what he said
    Granny granny you're not sick
    All you need is a backside Kick!

    Pretty awful!!!

    1. Hello, Reader.

      Thanks for sharing that rhyme with me and pancocojams visitors. I'm glad that you included some demographics (where and when you remember this version of what I call "The Spades Go" rhyme. It seems likely to me that "In Spain" is a folk processed form of "The Spades" and probably was an attempt to have those words make sense to the chanters.

      I'm curious to know your race and the race of the other children (?) who recited this rhyme.

      Thanks also for sharing that folklore collection website. Here's the link to the first of 21 pages

      I wasn't aware of that collection before you shared that info. I'll be spending some time there :o)

      Thanks again!

  4. I just found this great site:

  5. Azizi,

    I LOVE PITTSBURGH! Especially the poets and bookstores. I am a poet and digital artist, a southerner transplanted to the rural Midwest (for love), mother of a college student, part-time lecturer on design, typographer, and all the other stuff on my profile. I am white.

    It didn't occur time until today that my hearing impairment probably had me hearing "Spain" instead of "Spades." I didn't know I was born about half deaf until I was 20, so I am sure my childhood was full of misunderstandings such as that. So I asked my sisters about the clapping game and they said "Spades" and - get ready for it - "Saints"! Imagine saints putting two lips together, twilight forever.

    I did not know that the word spade was a word for black person until a difficult, enlightening day in my class a few years ago. A black student stopped a discussion during a critique while students were talking - all at one time it seemed - saying, "Stop being racist." I then asked him what he had heard. He recited a list of words that caused him obvious pain. Then I asked the other students in class (all but one student was white) what they had been saying during the past few minutes, and, holy cow, over the course of an hour or so, we worked it out. The black student did not know that two of the white students who had been arguing both shared the same last name: Black. And they referred to each other using first and last names during the critique trying to be funny. One of those white students had used playing card motifs on his design and was ignorant of the racist meaning of spade, too. This aural cluster became a menacing atmosphere in the room. Once we had stopped and listened to one another carefully with the intention of understanding, there were some tears, and after a break we were able to resume the critique. I felt that everyone in that room changed for the better during that hour. I wonder if I had the heart and mind to stop the train and focus everyone on the present if I had not been bussed across town in grade school where I studied with black children.

    Studying together is one opportunity to understand other people better. Playing together can be, too. I am interested in your work on these rhyming games. I remember realizing, quickly, that one of the fun things about the clapping games was that one could say profane things not allowed elsewhere about grandparents, body parts, sexuality, race, and people from other countries.There was also a pleasurable element of nonsense in that music.

  6. I forgot to say - West Meade elementary school and Wharton were the school names. I played clapping games with one black girl named Yvonne, but mostly with white girls. There was a wariness between the black and white girls, the rich and poor girls, the girls who wore dress shoes to school and the ones who wore beat up sneakers, etc. But sometimes these differences we're transcended on the playground, sometimes they were intensified. The year I entered first grade was 1969. Girls had only been permitted to wear slacks to school for 2 years, jeans had just been permitted. The generation gap was starting to fade as some of our mothers were also wearing jeans and staying active in youth culture into their late twenties instead of settling down into a complacent, suburban life. There were more black actors and actresses on TV back then, too. It was a time of upheaval that still continues, and should have been farther along for blacks but for the death of Lincoln and the reversal of the reparative laws passed during reconstruction. If we had had a president from the North during those years (instead of that spineless incompetent Andrew Johnson from Tennessee), I feel that there would have been steady progress toward equality instead of another century and a half of redlining, poll taxes, and segregation, but no.

    1. Hello, The Reader.

      I really appreciate what you have shared thus far on this site and hope that you will continue to share.
      The "saints is a substitution for "the spades" that I've never come across before.

      The incident in your classroom was particularly moving. I'm glad that you were knowledgeable and caring enough to help your students process what was going on. Regarding the last name "Black", in addition to my interest in playground rhymes, I'm also interested in personal names & surnames, and there are a number of posts on this blog on those subjects. I learned from my online research that in the USA there are more White people with the surname "Black" than there are Black people with that name.

      I agree with you that "Studying together is one opportunity to understand other people better. Playing together can be, too." But I'm interested in researching and documenting the way that race and ethnicity influence which rhymes are performed and how they are performed and understood (for example, slang terms).

      And while I agree that some progress has been made in this nation regarding race, institutional (systemic) racism and personal racism still flourish - as Black Lives Matter, the Oscar nominations, and the Republican primary campaigns have shown.

      In the face of all of that people keep on keeping on, and people keep on making connections across racial, ethnic, religious, national and other categories that might have divided us.