Friday, September 20, 2013

Examples Of The Singing Game "Punchinella"/ "Punchinello"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part series on "Punchinello"/"Punchinella". This post focuses on the development of children's singing game "Punchinella"/"Punchinello". Special emphasis is given to versions from the United States.

Click for Part I of this series. Part I provides historical information about "Punchinella"/"Punchinello", excepts of "Punchinello" songs that aren't children's singing games, and two YouTube examples of those songs.

Note: Because pancocojams focuses on music, dance, and customs from African Americans & other Black people throughout the world, let me be very clear that by no means am I stating that "Punchinella"/"Punchinello" games originated with Black people. However, that singing game has been and still is played by Black people-in the United States, in Jamaica, and presumably elsewhere. For that reason, and because I find this subject interesting, I'm including it in this blog.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and recreational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

The singing game "Punchinello"/"Punchinella" derives from the Italian character "Pulcinello". Visit Part I of this post for information about "Pulcinello" and other European depictions of that character.

"Punchinello"/Punchinella" is a "show me your motion" circle (ring) game in which one member of the group at a time takes a turn in the center (middle) of the circle. In every example of Punchinello/Punchinella that I've played, heard, observed, or read, the new center person is arbitrarily selected by the then center person pointing at her or him while that center person's eyes are closed. However, it appears that the earlist way of selecting a new center person in "show me your motion games" such as "Little Sally Walker" and "Going To Kentucky" was to purposely pick the person you "liked the best". In "courting" singing games (also known as "play party songs")* females would purposely pick a male and vice versa. I can understand the benefit of such a custom in those strict societies where play party games were played since those courting games provided safe opportunities for teens and young adults to publicly declare their romantic interest in a particular person. Remember, during the 19th century up to the early to mid 20th century in the United States, singing games/play party songs were performed by people up to their young adult years. Now there are many more socially approved opportunities for teens and young adults to declare their romantic interest in someone.

Nowadays most children in the United States only know a few singing games/"play party" games. And the singing games that are known are rarely played by children over 12 years old. Most of the singing games/play party songs which children in the United States know were taught on the college level to prospective teachers or child care givers. Those teachers/child care givers then taught the form & words of those games that they learned to their elementary school ages students (usually under age 12 years) and/or the pre-school/day care children who are under their care. The usual venue for teaching these games in elementary schools is music classes. Video #2 below is an example of this practice.

In other "show me your motion" singing games which aren't courting games (such as "Punchinello" and the Caribbean game "Brown Girl In The Ring")if the new center person isn't randomly picked, the selection of each center person was a popularity contest.

I wonder if the change to random selection of each new center person was something that adults mandated as a way to remove the element of popularity/unpopularity from the game. However it happened, I'm in favor of this way of selecting a center person.

*Click for information about "play party songs".

The singing game "Punchinello"/"Punchinella" is made up of four distinct phases. These phases correspond to the four verses that are sung by the people forming the circle in each rendition of the singing game.

The performance instructions for this song are as follows:
The group forms a wide circle. One person is selected to be the first center person.

Verse #1:
The song begins with the people making up the circle singing while moving counterclockwise around the circle. They may or may not hold hands. The "center person" usually doesn't sing during the entire song. During the first verse of the song, the center person merely stands still or poses in place.

Verse #2:
The people forming the circle continue to sing while moving counterclockwise around the circle. In response to the song's lyrics, the center person does some arbitrary non-complicated motion such as acrobatic movement, a simple dance step, or some other easy to imitate motion like clapping her or his hands. The center person continues to do this same motion throughout that rendition of this song.

Verse #3: During the third verse, the people forming the circle stop moving around the circle. Each person remains relatively in place, but while continuing to sing, they attempt to exactly imitate the motion that the center person performs.

Verse #4: During the fourth verse, the center person remains in the middle of the circle. She (or he) closes her eyes, puts her right hand over her eyes, and stretching out her left arm, puts at the people forming the circle while slowly turning around in a circle. The center person stops turning around at the end of that rendition of the song.

The people forming the circle continue singing but may either stand still, or continue moving counterclockwise again while singing that verse. During the performance of that verse by an African American group of children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who I worked with in the early 2000s, the children stood in place while singing but performed a percussive handclap (clapping their own hands), foot stomping beat while singing that last verse. Although the children knew this singing game before my school teacher daughter & I "taught" it to them, my daughter introduced this percussive accompaniment to that last verse because she was really "in to" steppin & foot stomping cheers.*

The person who the center person is pointing to becomes the new center person. The former center person takes that person's place as part of the group forming the circle, and the game immediately begins again from the beginning.

Click for information about Alafia Children's Ensemble. Also click for video examples of fraternity/sorority steppin and click information about & examples of foot stomping cheers.

1. Since at least the late 1940s or early 1950s, at least in some areas, few children playing Punchinello/Punchinella singing games with a clown. Yet, the idea of "Punchinello" being a funny person who is tasked with making others laugh is somewhat retained in the singing game as the center person is supposed to perform some [usually] funny motion that everyone else copies.

2. Although the original "Pulcinello" was always a male, and "Punch" in Punch & Judy shows was always a male, the center person in the "Punchinello"/"Punchinella" singing game can be either male or female. Note the words to an early version of that game - "What can you do Punchinello, funny fellow."

3. It appears that the name "Punchinella" is very often used in the United States and in some other English speaking nations instead of the name "Punchinello". As per point #2, "Punchinella" or "Punchinello" can be either male or female.

I wonder if the reason why "Punchinella" with an "a" at the end is so common in the United States because early on in that country the word "Punchinella" was thought to be the words "Punch and Nella", with "Nella" being a female name. The editor of wrote that
"A Baltimore version of this American singing game was collected from 20th century Baltimore, MD. Baltimore has its own Little Italy. The Baltimore version of the game was called "Punch and Netta." (One could speculate that meant it could have derived from American Baltimore children misunderstanding another version of the name, "Pulcinella," as "Punch 'n Nella.")"
That said, a commenter on a Mudcat discussion forum about this singing game remembers the word "Punchinella" being used in the 1940s London, England. [Example #1 below] And the a ending form of that name may be common elsewhere.

For what it's worth, I remember playing "Punchinella" -with an "a" ending - during the early to mid 1950 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (given as Example #2 below). Also, I didn't associate "Punchinella" with a clown.

4. Some versions of "Punchinella"/"Punchinello" have the line "Punchinella/o in the shoe". That's the way I remember singing it. I've wondered if that line came from the popularity of the "Buster Brown" brand of children's shoes. A picture of the boy "Buster Brown" and his dog Tige was in the sole of each shoe. Click for information about Buster Brown.
However, the word "shoe" may be used a rhyming word for the word "do" as is the case with the other end rhyming words that
I've read for this line - "you" and "zoo". Note that the word "zoo" is used in the version that is performed in the YouTube video #2.

5. I collected the version of "Punchinella" [given below as "Example #2"] in 1997 from a group of African American children (mostly girls ages 7-12 years) which includes the term "Punchinella 57". I don't know how widespread this version was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylavania, but to date, I haven't found another example of it online or elsewhere.

My guess is that the "57" came from the widely known slogan for Heinz products [at least widely known in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania]. This marketing slogan was introduced in 1896. Click for information about Heinz 57.

A version of "Punchinello" that includes the number "42" is given below as Example #4. I have no idea why that number was/is used.

Example #1: "Punchinella"
"Yes, we were taught it at GLB cadets (similar to Brownies) in London in late 40s. The word were slightly different

What are you doing, little Punchinella?
What are you doing Punchinella dear?

We'll do it too (etc.)

Tune the same as the start of 'Down at the Station early in the morning'.
-Mo the caller,, "Play-party game 'Punchinello'", October 13, 2010

Example #2:
Look who's here
Punchinella Punchinella
Look who's here
Punchinella in the shoe.

(Oh) What can you do
Punchinella Punchinella
What can you do
Punchinella in the shoe.

(Well) We can do it too
Punchinella Punchinella
We can do it too
Punchinella in the shoe.

Who do you choose
Punchinella Punchinella
Who do you choose
Punchinella in the shoe.
-Azizi Powel; childhood memories, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1950s
The version of this singing game that I collected in 1997 from African American children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania went:
"Look who's here
Punchinella 57
Look who's here
Punchinella in the shoe."

Example #3:
"I'm 22 and work as a primary school teaching assistant.
When i was in school, our Headteacher taught us this but the lyrics were slightly different...

what can you do punchinello punchinello
what can you do punchinello 42

child hops etc

we can do it to punchinello punchinello,
we can do it do punchinello 42

turn right round punchinello punchinello
turn right round punchinello 42

In the school i worked at previously, i was surprised to see the children playing this game on the yard, with the same lyrics
and the children in my current school also sing these lyrics.
strange how we have a completly different variation on the end!!"
-Guest, Suzanne,, "Play-party game 'Punchinello', January 21, 2011

Example #4:
"I grew up in Jamaica, West Indies, playing this game at school during recess. In the 1950s, the words we sang were:

Who is coming next, Punchinello, little fellow?
Who is coming next, Punchinello, little dear?

What can you do, Punchinello, little fellow?
What can you do, PUnchinello, little dear?

We can do it too, Punchinello, little fellow
We can do it too, Punchinello, little dear."
-Guest, Guest,,
February 02, 2011

Example #1: Ponchinello funny fellow

olivialauren34,·Uploaded on Jan 13, 2011
This 1988 video is from "Wee Sing: Grandpa's Magical Toys". In this video, Punchinello is a clown. Several commenters wrote that as a child they were scared of the "Punchinello" character and other props in this video.

Here's an excerpt of this singing game's lyrics:
What can you do Punchinello funny fellow
What can you do Punchinello funny you.

We can do it too Punchinello funny fellow
We can do it too, Punchinello funny you...
WARNING: Some of the comments in this YouTube video comment thread include profanity.

Example #2: Punchinella

gdozet, Uploaded on Sep 27, 2008

Ms. Thuet's and Ms. Friedman's 2nd graders singing and playing.
Song Excerpt:
"Oh look who's here Punchinella, Punchinella
Look who's here, Punchinella from the zoo..."

UPDATE: 10/10/2013
Example #4: Punchinella Singing Game

Nathan McMath, Published on May 30, 2013

Look Who's Here Punchinella
A lovely singing game that can be played in pairs or in larger groups in a circle. It is fun to play with your child or with the whole family. Try adding your child's name: Look who's here little Joey Little Joey.
In this video the game is being played by first graders. Sorry for the terrible audio quality!

This song has a slightly different tune.

Look who's here Punchinella, Punchinella [The Middle person skips around the inside of the circle.]
Look who's here, Punchinella boy [or girl]
What can you do etc. [The person in the middle who is "It" does some kind of movement or dance.]
We can do it to etc. [The people forming the circle try to exactly imitate that movement.]
Shake it to the East [The middle person rejoins the circle and doees the shaking dance along with the others]
Shake it to the West
Shake it to the very one
that you love the best
[The person who is "It" purposely picks someone to be the next "It" & the song begins again from the beginning.
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to those who are featured in these and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube examples.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I remember it as "Look who's here, Punchinella 47, look who's here, Punchinella 42," etc. I always thought the numbers were just nonsense/rhyming.

    1. Hello, Anonymous. Thanks for your comment.

      I think that most of the words to children's rhymes is rhyming, but often - as in the case of the name "Punchinella" , and I think in the case of the number "47" those words have real meanings and back stories.

    2. In the 1950's and early 1960's in Loss Angeles, we learned it the same way with 47 and 42. We just picked it up in.the neighborhood. It was never taught, but played there by girls under 9 years old. I am Black and grew Black and Latina neighborhood. Had not thought about this in.years and always wondered why 47 and 42 were I think the original "funny fellow" and "can you do" were just misunderstood and passed along as part of the song.

    3. Hello, Emily Taylor-Snell.

      Thanks for sharing your memories about the "Punchinella" rhyme and thanks for including your demographics.

      I agree with you that the "47" and "42" were misunderstood and then passed along to other children as part of this rhyme. I wrote in this post that I think the "47" came from the Heinz catsup ads. The "42" is probably a folk processed substitution for the line "what can you do". Maybe the number "42" (instead of "22" or some other two digit number ending in 2) was used because it fit with the number "47".

      Best wishes!