Thursday, September 18, 2014

Children's Playground Rhymes About Whippings (Spankings, Beatings)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents a small sample of children's playground rhymes that mention a child being hit as a form of punishment.

There are LOTS of examples of such rhymes, and there are MANY other very old and contemporary rhymes that mention a person being shot, kicked, punched, slapped, and/or more. Playground rhymes are a reflection of the society that children grow up in. They include so much violence because violence permeates our society.

As the author of this article "Spanking Children In Literature: Growing Up in a Culture of Spanking" notes "[her parents shared with others] a solid and accepted tradition of hitting children to get them to either do or stop doing what what you wanted... It was part of America's Bible-influenced culture and back then something kids my age had in commons."

I admit to giving my children spankings with my hand on rare occassions, and I admit to even more rarely giving my children a spanking with a strap, but never with a ruler, paddle, shoe, or stick (which is called a "switch" by some Black Americans.) Particularly because of my work in Child Welfare, I recognized then as I recognize now that a child can make an adult so angry that that they could hurt that child without planning to do so. When I was raising my children I tried to keep my self-control. Most of the time I used refrained from corporal punishment and used other forms of discipline such as those that are discussed in this article:

Although this blog focuses on African American culture and other Black cultures throughout the world, many of the examples included in this post are from White contributors, and those examples are (or were) chanted by White children or by children of Color or both.

Despite the recent stories about Black professional footbal players abusing their children, hitting children for disciplinary purposes and especially using excessive force while disciplining children isn't a race problem, it's a people problem.

It's my hope that an increased recognition of the prevalence of violence in children' rhymes will help motivate people to be more aware of the words to the rhymes that they teach children, to refrain from passing on these types of rhymes, and to help children who chant these rhymes recognize the negative physical and emotional consequences of using corporal punishment as a form of discipline. Especially with older children, these rhymes can be used as teaching opportunities to reinforce the view that there are better ways to discipline children than hitting them.

Thanks to all those who have collected these examples or have contributed examples that are included in this post.

These examples are presented in alphabetical order, and are numbered for referencing purposes only. Contributor comments are included with some examples. Unless the contributor gave a title for his or her example, I've used the first line of each example as its title. I've also added brief editorial comments after a few of these examples.

A, B
Alligator, alligator
I can't swim.
Call {name} in. (* Jumper enters *)
Here comes the teacher
With a bamboo stick.
I wonder what I got
in arithmetic.
A, B, C, D, F.

Source: Hastings (1990), hereafter given as "Mudcat: Jump Rope Listing"
"A, B, C, D, F." were the letter grades that were given in public schools in New Jersey when I went to school in thee 1950s qnd 1960s. In Pennsylvania when my children went to school in the late 1970s to the 1990s the failing grade was "E" instead of "F".

C, D
Cherry, cherry, cherry wine.
Come back here, I'll tan your 'hine

Source: Abrahams (1969)
-hereafter given as Mudcat: Jump Rope Listing
"Tan your hide" means severally beat your skin (your body).

Jump rope song

Down in the valley where the green grass grow
There lay (your name) sweet as a rose
She sang, she sang, she sang so sweet
Along come a man and kissed her on the cheek
Myyyy (your name)aren't you ashamed?
Kissing a boy without any name?
I'll tell Ma
And Ma'll tell Pa
And you get a whoppin by Grand, Grand MA
How many whoppins did she recieve?

These are counted as the rope turns
-GUEST,A 70's Child, Children's Street Songs, Sept 18, 1970

E, F

G, H
Glory, glory hallelujah
teacher hit me with a ruler
I bopped her on the bean
with a rotten tangerine
and she ain't gonna teach no more"*
The Blog editor refers to this rhyme as "The Burning of the School" and noted that there are hundreds of variations.

I, J
I'm going downtown to smoke my pipe,
I won't be back til broad daylight,
f you let the witch get little sister Sue,
I'll spank you black, I'll spank you blue,
I'll spank you with the heel of my old rubber shoe

This is the version we used to jump rope to. Back in the 50's, Saginaw, MI
-Guest,blaine; "kids' game: I'm goin' down town to smoke my pipe" ; February 27.2009
That Mudcat discussion thread includes a lot of examples of this rhyme which is chanted as part of that running/hidding game. It's interesting that so many of the examples of this rhyme that were shared are from the state of Michigan.

Here are two comments from another website discussion of that game:
Subject: a game we used to play at a country school in Michigan in the '30s
Asked by: cv5830-ga, Posted: 14 Dec 2003
"It began with the line: "I'm going downtown to smoke my pipe and I
won't be back till broad daylight and if you let my muffins burn I'll spank you blue (various colors) . . ." One answer from my Google search came from someone in Washington State, but she didn't remember much of it either. Something about "if you let that old witch in . ."

"Re: a game we used to play at a country school in Michigan in the '30s
From: workplace-ga on 23 Apr 2004
"Wow, this is interesting! I used to play this game as a child too up in Canada! Check out the children's story written by Audrey Wood entitled, HECKEDY PEG. Her story is very similar to our game. She credits this story going back to a 16th century game! It would be interesting to find out where else in the world this has been played!"
"Spanking someone blue (or black and blue) means spanking them so severly that he or she has bruises that are black and blue in color.

Johnny over the ocean.
Johnny over the sea.
Johnny broke a bottle,
And blamed it on me.

I told Ma.
Ma told Pa.
Johnny got a whippin'.
Ha ha ha.
-Mudcat: Jump Rope Listing

K, L

M, N
Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the burning of the school.
We have tortured all the teachers
And broken all the rules.
We are marching down the aisle
Now to kill the principal.
Our gang is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler.
I hit her on the bean
With a rotten tangerine
And there ain't no teacher anymore.

Source: Abrahams (1969), Hastings (1990)
"Mudcat: Jump Rope Rhymes Listing"

O, P
'Old Aunt Dinah sick in bed
Eegisty –ogisty!
Sent for the doctah-doctah said,
Eegisty –ogisty!
“Git up, Dinah-
You ain’t sick.
Eegisty –ogisty!
All you need
Is a hickory stick!
Eegisty –ogisty!--Ring-ding-ah-ding---ah!
-Source: Dorothy Scarborough On The Trail Of Negro Folk Rhymes, 1927, pp 187-188
I remember this rhyme as "Grandma Grandma sick in bed". During slavery in the United States south, the title "Mrs" was reserved for White females only. Instead of "Mrs", "Aunt" was used as a title for older Black women (and Ungle was used for older Black men instead of "Mr".

In this rhyme "Aunt Dinah" (or grandma) is being accused of faking her illness. Cranches from hickory trees were often used to give beatings because that wood is so hard. Later versions of this rhyme substitute "peppermint stick" or “walking stick” for "hickory stick", and in so doing changing the underlying meeaning of that rhyme.

From rapidly fading memory - not sure of spelling

Our schoolhouse is a fine schoolhouse
It's the best schoolhouse in Glasgae,
The only thing wrong with our schoolhouse
Is the baldy heided master.
He gaes tae the pub on Saturday night,
He gaes tae the kirk on Sunday,
Tae pray tae the lord tae gi' him the strength
Tea murder the weans on Monday.
Guest, "anti-school songs", March 3, 2006
"Glasgae" is Glasgow, Scotland"
"He gaes tae the pub" = He goes to the bar
"He goes tae the kirk" = He goes to the church
"tae gi'" = to give
"Tae murder the weans" = to murder the children (by whipping them)

One I remember from my childhood in Belfast in the 50s was:
Pancake Tuesday is a holiday.
If we don't get off, we'll all run away.
Where shall we run?
Down the wee lane.
Who should we meet, but the teacher with the cane.
What shall we do?
We'll chop her up in two & leave her at the hospital at half past two! (? not totally clear in the memory department on the last half of the last line!)
-GUEST,Chris McCann, "Children's Street Rhymes", March 31, 2008
Click for information about Shrove Tuesday and the custom of Pancake Day.

My late mother used to sing this as a little girl, she was born in 1910.

Pancack Tuesday's a very happy day
If we don't get a holiday we'll all run away.
Where will you run to?
Down Copp Lane,
Here comes the Master with a big fat cane.

then shouted
Eating pancackes, cracking nuts
Shovelling pancakes down us guts!

Copp Lane was the lane behind the Testimonial School in Fleetwood, the town's oldest school, and in the mid 19C, Shrove tuesday was a school holiday, but not when my mother was a little girl, I don't know how old this ditty is but I'd guess late 19C. Ron
-GUEST,Sailor Ron, "Children's Street Songs", June 22, 2009

Q, R

S, T
Teacher, teacher,
Don't whip me.
Whip that boy
Behind the tree.
He stole peaches.
I stole none.
Teacher, teacher
Ain't that fun?

Teacher, teacher,
Don't whip me.
Whip that boy
Behind the tree.
He stole money
I stole honey.
Teacher, teacher
Ain't that funny?

Source: Yellowbelly, yellowbelly [Mudcat: Jump Rope Rhyme Listing]
The earliest examples of this rhyme refer to "master" and "th n word". Click this page of my Cocojams cultural website about the rhyme "Master Don't Whip Me" which is the precusor of "Teacher Teacher Don't Whip Me" and "Policeman Policeman Don't Beat Me" rhymes:

U, V
Under the bramble bushes
Under the sea
Boom boom boom
True love for you my darling
True love for me
And when we mar-rreeee
We'll raise a family
A girl for you
A boy for me
Johnny broke a saucer & blamed it on me
I told Mama
Mama told Papa
And Johnny got a spanking
So ha ha ha!
-Louisa K,, 4/18/14 [from the United Kingdom]
This rhyme shows the common practice of combining two or more rhymes together. The "Johnny broke a saucer" portion of this example is a version of the independent rhyme "Johnny Over The Ocean". Another example of that rhymee can be found above.

W, X
When Susie was a teacher
A teacher Susie was
She hit us with a ruler
And gave us great big welts
Call the operator
Give me number nine
Tell Susie not to hit us
And now our hands are fine

Source, Barbara, "Children's Street Songs", November 2, 1998

Y, Z
Yonder comes the teacher
With a big fat stick.
Wonder what I made
On arithmetic?
5, 10, 15, 20, ... (* Continues counting *)

Source: Abrahams (1969), Solomon (1980)
-Mudcat: Jump Rope Rhyme Listing

UPDATE: October 10, 2014
Although this poem isn't a playground rhyme, its first verse is often thought to be one:

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There was a little girl, and she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good she was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

One day she went upstairs, while her parents, unawares,
In the kitchen were occupied with meals;
And she stood upon her head, on her little truckle-bed,
And then began hurraying with her heels.

Her mother heard the noise, and thought it was the boys
A-kicking up a rumpus in the attic;
But when she climbed the stair and saw Jemima there,
She took her up and spanked her most emphatic.


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  1. Here's a link to a post about a survey of Asian American adults that concluded that Asian Americans receive less spankings as children than Americans of other races and ethnicities (with "ethnicity" meaning Latino/Hispanic):

    However, a number of commenters who self-identified as Asian and other commenters questioned the validity of that study for various reasons, including their own personal experiences and/or the experiences of Asians who they know.

    Some commenters questioned what was meant by "Asian".
    naomic3, October 3. 2014
    ..."Perhaps the term "Asian" is too broad? I would like to see the breakdowns for specific coutnty of origin, parental age, and religion. Are Buddhist Asians less likely to beat their children than Christian? So many other variables..."
    A number of commenters indicated that the term "spanking" and the phrase "good, hard spanking" that was used in that study, are open to too many interpretations. Several commenters pointed out that spanking on the buttocks isn't part of South Asians' culture, but South Asian children in the USA are physically disciplined in other ways. Here are two of those comments:

    She, October 3, 2014
    "indian kid here... educated upper-mid class parents (not engineers, doctors or lawyers though for stereotyping assistance). Spanking is just not a common physical punishment commonly. Face slapping is... and of course emotional punishment. So where's that in the survey?"

    Nadezh, October 3, 2014
    "I think the problem is spanking as a standard punishment. South Asians certainly smack their kids, and sometimes deliver quite severe beatings, but spanking - ie, hitting someone on the butt - is just not a thing. I can't say so definitively, but there's a bit of a cultural taboo around touching below the waist, particularly children."

  2. Really pathetic that you would admit to hitting you children with a strap, even very rarely and then claim to have worked in child welfare. Clearly you know nothing ABOUT child welfare. Shame.

    1. Thanks for your comment, anonymous.

      I'm not here to prove how much I knew about child welfare.

      I'm not proud about the fact that I hit my children with a strap on the very rare occasions that I did. I'm also not going to defend what I did, when I did it, and the reasons I did it.

      It happened and I'm being honest about it.