Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Examples Of "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo" In The United States, Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on United States examples of the counting out/choosing it rhyme "Eeny Meenie Miney Mo" (1940s-to date).

Part I features selected comments from a Language Forums discussion thread: "eeny meeny miney mo - how acceptable?" The original poster asked if it was acceptable to use the words "eeny meeny miney mo" without the n word.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II features selected comments from other websites.

With the exception of my comments, I found these quotes through internet searching. Examples in this collection are included only if the blogger indicates his or her location in the United States. In some of these examples, the decade in which this rhyme was chanted by that blogger, and that blogger's age are also given.

DISCLAIMER: This post isn't meant to be a comprehensive listing of online examples of this rhyme.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

""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 who has to be excluded 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,[1] 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."...

Examples from the same website are given in chronological order. Selected websites are featured in no particular order.

These comments are numbered for referencing purposes only. The numbering sequence from Part I continues in Part II.

Most of the blogs and other websites featured in this post include examples of "Eenie Meeny Miney Mo" from other English speaking nations, particularly from the United Kingdom and Australia. And those examples often comprise the majority of the versions that are given.

I choose to use the euphemism "the n word" in this post. The n word is written in italics when that pejorative word is fully or partially spelled out in a quote.

Comments from

Comment #1: 8th November 2006, 5:22 AM #7
"I was completely unaware of any racist undertones until I read this thread. Here's how I learned it:
Eeny meeny miney mo
Catch a tiger by the toe
If he hollers make him pay
Fifty dollars every day
My mother told me to pick the very best one and you-are-not-it!

Speaking as a teen in the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S., this expression* is totally acceptable (if a bit childish)
*this expression = "eeny meenie miney mo” without the n word

Comment #2: 8th November 2006, 5:42 AM #9
Location: NY, Native language:US, English
Quote Originally Posted by elroy
“Wow, up until now I had no idea that the song had any racist connotations whatsoever!”
I'm in shock, I never knew until this moment that there were any other versions than the one I learned (below), much less a racist version.
Eeny meeny miney mo
Catch a tiger by the toe
If he hollers let him go
My mother said that you are O - U - T!"

Comment #3: 5th August 2011, 10:10 PM #15
Location:Central Illinois, Native language:American English
"Many of us said "piggy," although I was aware of the racist version also. (Chicago/1960s). Members of my family would often use a version of the racist word that was modified to rhyme with "piggy," and so I always assumed that that's where the "piggy" version came from."...

Comment #4: 5th August 2011, 11:23 PM #18
Location:Massachusetts, U.S.Native language:English
"Growing up in the northeast U.S. in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I heard, learned, and used it with "tiger" and "monkey." Didn't know it had a racist version until a decade or two later. (That is still well before I came upon this thread, of course)"...

Comment #5: 2nd April 2012, 6:20 AM #20
Location: USA; Native language:English
"We always just used "Catch a tiger by it's toe", growing up in Wisconsin. "Eeny meeny miny moe, catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers let him go, eeny meeny miny moe".

Comment #6: 2nd April 2012, 11:12 AM #22
a little edgy
Location:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USANative language:English
"As the many comments from AE speakers indicate, the "tiger" and "piggy" versions are common in the US even today. Even if some people might be offended by the entire rhyme because of the former use of "the n word," I can't imagine that anyone would find "eeny meeny miney mo" by itself offensive. People say it all the time."
"AE"= American English

Comment #7: 2nd April 2012, 5:43 PM #23
Location:SE Michigan, USANative language:English - AmericanAge:71
..."I was certainly aware of the offensive (the n word) version, as many of my playmates (1948-1958 Mid-West US) used it when out of earshot of adults. I never heard it at home, and only rarely heard the tiger/monkey/etc. versions. I seem to recall chastisement and a long discussion when I tried it (once) at home."

Comment #8: 2nd October 2012, 10:54 PM #30
Sparky Malarky
Location:IndianaNative language:English - US
..."Growing up in the 1950s, we said "Crack a the n word on his toe," and even though we knew better than to use that word in other circumstances, we thought nothing of it. In the 1970's my son came home with "Touch a tiger on his toe."

Comment #9: 3rd October 2012, 4:20 PM #33
Location:Indianapolis, Indiana, USANative language:English - US
"I grew up in Southern California saying the "tiger" version. I think my mother, who was born in the South, was the one who told me about the n-word version after I got a little older, NOT because she approved of it, because she most definitely did not - I'm not sure what she would have done had she ever heard me use that word, but I would not have enjoyed it - but because she thought it was important for me to know about the rampant racism she grew up around. (They had separate water fountains and everything when she was a kid.) "The n word" was never an innocent word in the South, or if it ever was, it had been several generations since this was so even when my mother was growing up. I'm quite sure that people in other parts of the country and the world could have used it quite innocently, though.

And anyway, I don't think anybody could possibly object to "eeny meeny miny mo."* You hear it alllllll the time."
The original poster asked if people in the United States could say "eeny meeny miny mo" without the n word.

Comment #10: 3rd October 2012, 10:21 PM #34
Location:Illinois, Native language:American English
"I learned the N-version in 1950, during the first days of the first grade in a small town near Indianapolis. When I recited it outdoors with playmates at home, my mother and my father suddenly both appeared at my right and left elbows and ordered me to STOP! and to NEVER! use that word again. My mother suggested, incomprehensibly, that I say "monkey" instead. "But Mother," I insisted, "that's not the way the poem goes." I don't remember when I eventually learned what the N-word signified, but I do know that every part of that rhyme now, for me, is anathema."

Comment #11: 4th October 2012, 7:41 AM #37
Location:Minneapolis, Minnesota USANative language:English, USAAge:61
"I am 58 and grew up in a rural area of Central Illinois. I know that both the "the n word" and "tiger" versions of "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" were available when I was a boy because I insisted on using the "tiger" version while my peers used the ""the n word" version."

Comment #12: 23rd January 2014, 7:57 PM #38
Location:IllinoisNative language:English USA
"Grew up in US-Pennsylvania in the 1940s-50s. I heard the n version from classmates, but was not allowed to use it. We said tiger."...
This blogger shared two examples that his grandmother who was born in 1884 taught him. One of those examples was
"Eeny, meeny, miney, mo,
Crack a feeny finey foe.
Ippa nuja poppa tuja,
ick, bick, ban, dao."
The other example is quite different from the "eeny, meeny, miney, mo" rhymes.

Comment #13: 24th January 2014, 3:29 AM #39
Location:Connecticut, Native language:English - US (Midwest)Age:60
"When I was a kid we used the "the n word" version - this was small-town southern Michigan in the early '60s, and at that point I don't believe I'd ever actually seen a black person except on telly. It's been years since I last used it, but I see no reason not to do so when the situation calls for it, though I would say "tiger" or "penguin" now.(As in the song Sparky quoted, we said "Eeny meeny miney mo" again after "let him go.")"...

Comment #14: 24th January 2014, 4:12 AM #40
Location:Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.Native language:English (American).
"It's quite amazing that a whole generation or two, above seem unaware of the racist version, which I certainly heard in So Cal in the 1950s. The word 'tiger' [or the more transparent 'tigger'] is the attempt to clean up the rhyme, and, I thought, came in about that time. I sure a number of transitional folks knew that 'tiger' etc. were stand-ins.

As to whether the opening lines are acceptable before the racist lines (or with substitutions), I think marginally so."

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