Thursday, November 1, 2012

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

Edited by Azizi Powell

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 the phrase "the spades go" predates the phrase "the space goes" and "the space goes" is probably a folk etymology form of "the spades go" - meaning it was made up because "the spades go" was misheard or misremembered.

It's my position that "the spades goes" originally meant the same exact thing as "The Black [people] go". As background to substantiate my position, here's information from about the colloquial expressions "call a spade a spade" and "black as the ace of spades":

"To "call a spade a spade" is to speak honestly and directly about a topic, specifically topics that others may avoid speaking about due to their sensitivity or embarrassing nature. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1913) defines it as
To be outspoken, blunt, even to the point of rudeness; to call things by their proper names without any "beating about the bush".

...The phrase predates the use of the word "spade" as an ethnic slur against African Americans, which was not recorded until 1928; however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur and/or confusion with playing card references such as "black as the ace of spades".
That said, when the words "the spades" are found in children's recreational rhymes, I don't believe that they have any intended pejorative meaning. That said, it's my belief that originally the phrase "the spades" in children's rhymes did refer to Black people. However, in the context of those playground rhymes, I believe that the phrase "the spades go" was actually meant to confer the mark of authenticity to the words that followed. That was because Black people - and in this sense of playground rhymes Black girls- were seen of the arbiters of "the real way" that those songs or those handclap rhymes were supposed to be sung, or chanted and performed. For this reason, persons who are interested in the origin of playground rhymes can look at examples of rhymes that begin with "the spades go" or "the space goes", or -much less frequently- "the Blacks go", as an indication that the people reciting those rhymes believed that the words came from Black people - or that Black people (that is to say, Black females) were the role models for the way those rhymes were "supposed to be" performed. The same conference of authenticity and early source can also be said for vaudeville songs and other songs that include what I believe is the equivalent introductory phrases as "the Black people say" or "the Black people sing".

In 2006 I wrote a rather lengthy reply to a question that was posed to me on a Folk & Blues forum about my rather tepid reaction as an African American to the inclusion of the phrase "the spades go" that was found in am example of the playground rhyme "Two Lips". That example is reposted 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". I think that there are three main reasons for that:

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


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

(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.