Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Versions Of "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" Counting Out Rhymes In The United States

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on the "eenie meenie miney mo" counting out/choosing it rhymes and on eenie meenie epsileenie" jump rope/hand clap rhymes (or similar titles).

This pancocojams post presents some general information about "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" counting out/choosing it rhymes and presents a compilation of some United States versions of these rhymes.

This post doesn't include speculation about the origin/s of "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" rhymes.

I'm particularly interested in documented some examples of "Eeenie Meenie Miney Mo" rhymes from the United States that include demographic information (particularly when and where these rhymes were/are chanted). For folkloric purposes, I'm also interested in documenting examples of "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" rhymes from the United States which include "the 'n' word" and which also include recollections about the chanter's reaction to and/or other people's reactiions to that word in those examples. 

The content is provided for folkloric and socio-cultural information. 

I am not compiling these examples for recreational purposes as I consider "the n word" to be very offensive regardless of the context. 

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all who are quoted in this post.
Click for the closely related pancocojams post entitled "
Versions Of "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" Counting Out Rhymes In The United Kingdom".

Also, click for for Part I and for Part II of a 2015 pancocojams series about "Versions Of "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" Counting Out Rhymes In The United States."

This 2021 contains a few of the same examples that were included in those 2015 posts. 
DISCLAIMER: This post isn't meant to be a comprehensive listing of online examples of these rhymes.

NOTE: The word that is commonly given as "the n word" is given as "n--ger" or other incomplete spellings in this post. Those euphemisms are noted by an asterisk: *. 

"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe"—which can be spelled a number of ways—is a children's counting rhyme, used to select a person in games such as tag, or for selecting various other things. It is one of a large group of similar rhymes in which the child who is pointed to by the chanter on the last syllable is either "chosen" or "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 know its exact origin.


American and British versions

Some versions of this rhyme use the racial slur "n--ger*" instead of "tiger". Iona and Peter Opie quote the following version:

Eena, meena, mina, mo,
Catch a n--ger* by his toe;
If he squeals let him go,
Eena, meena, mina, mo.[3]

This version was similar to that reported by Henry Carrington Bolton as the most common version among American schoolchildren in 1888.[10].

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,
Catch a n--ger* by the toe,
If he won't work then let him go;
Skidum, skidee, skidoo.
But when you get money, your little bride
Will surely find out where you hide,
So there's the door and when I count four,
Then out goes you.[11]

It was also used by Rudyard Kipling in his "A Counting-Out Song", from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935.[12] This may have helped popularise this version in the United Kingdom where it seems to have replaced all earlier versions until the late twentieth century"... 

These examples are given in no particular order. Numbers are included for referencing purposes only. Examples from the same website are given in chronological order.

1. DESCRIPTION: "Eenie meenie minie mo, Catch a (n--ger*/tiger) by the toe, If he hollers, let him go, Eenie meenie minie mo."

AUTHOR: unknown

EARLIEST DATE: 1903 (Newell-GamesAndSongsOfAmericanChildren); Simpson and Roud report an 1885 collection in Canada, and Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes claims that Bolton had a version in 1888

KEYWORDS: nonballad

FOUND IN: US(MW,NE) Britain(England(West)) Australia New Zealand


NOTES … A child's counting-out rhyme, used e.g. for choosing who is "it" in a game of tag. The Opies declare it the most popular rhyme of this sort in both the United States and England, and certainly it is the only one I ever personally encountered. I remember, at about age ten, trying to convince other children that this was *not* random and that the counter could always pick who was "it" using this scheme. I suppose I was fortunate that they didn't listen, or I'd have been "it" every time.

More interesting is the fact that we (middle-class kids in Minnesota in about 1970) gave the second line as "Catch a tiger by the toe," compared to the seemingly-older version involving catching a "n--ger*." Did we modify it to "tiger" because none of us knew the meaning of the racial slur, or did our parents firmly straighten us (or our older classmates, who taught us the rhyme) out? I've no clue.

Paul Stamler, who learned the rhyme some years before I did, also learned it with "tiger" -- and says that the children he played it with liked the alliteration.

Simpson and Roud's Dictionary of English Folklore (article on Counting Rymes) suggests that the British original was "chicken" or "tinker," with "beggar" also used. This seems reasonable in context, but I've yet to encounter any of these forms in real life.

It may seem odd to include this in a Ballad Index; it certainly isn't a ballad -- but it is a song, and clearly of the folk variety."...
- [retrieved May 4, 2021]

"During the Second World War, an AP dispatch from Atlanta, Georgia reported: "Atlanta children were heard reciting this wartime rhyme:

Eenie, meenie, minie, moe,
Catch the emperor by his toe.
If he hollers make him say:
'I surrender to the USA.'"[13]",_meeny,_miny,_moe

3. I remember my sisters and our friends chanting this rhyme for counting out or for choosing who was "it" in games like "Tag" or "Red Green Light"

Eenie meeine miney moe
Catch a tiger by the toe
If he hollers let him go
Eenie meenie miney mo

We would then add something like 
"My mother told me to choose the very best
And it is not YOU"
[The person pointed to on the word "YOU" is out.


Out goes the rat
Out goes the cat
Out goes the lady
with the sea saw hat"
[The person who is pointed to on the word "hat" is out.]

When I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1969 and subsequently heard the "eenie meenie miney mo" rhyme chanted by other people, that rhyme was always given as "Catch a tiger by a toe".

It wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I learned that “tiger” (or some other word) was a replacement for the “the n word”.
-Azizi Powell (African American), memories of my childhood in the 1950s in Atlantic City, New Jersey and statement about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late 1960s to date (2021). 

4. ..I grew up in upper Manhattan, where using the n-word would get you seriously [profanity deleted] up if not killed, but everyone knew the tiger rhyme, and none of us kids knew it had anything racist in it. When an older black man told us the original, we didn't believe it. Until he showed it to us in a book. Personally, I think "Tiger" is an improvement precisely because it isn't racist anymore (and because if you catch a tiger by the toe you will get what you deserve!)"
-GUEST, Nerd, 01 May, 02,, eena meena mackeracka (children's rhymes) 

5...."I first picked up eeny-meeny from the bigger kids in my street when I was four. They used the N word, and I didn't know what it meant. When my mother heard me reciting it she told me that wasn't a nice word to use and that I should sing "tiger" instead. I subsequently heard the chant used both ways, so there were two versions floating around."

-Bonnie Shaljean,  01 Jul 06,, eena meena mackeracka (children's rhymes) 

6. "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 :D )"
-Defy_Convention, Nov. 8, 2006, 

7. “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!"
-Elroy, Location: NY, 8th November 2006,

8. 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.
-pob14, Aug. 5, 2011, ,

9. "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)

To me, using "piggy" makes little sense. In my childhood, as well as those of my children and grandchildren, a "piggy" was a toe - as in "This little piggy went to market, this little piggy ..." How can you catch a toe by the toe? Do toes have their own toes? If they do, do those toes have toes too? It boggles the mind ...
-Egmont, Aug. 5, 2011,

I was certainly aware of the offensive (nigger) 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."
-pwmeek, April 2, 2012,

11." 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.) "N--ger*" 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.'
-JustKate, Oct. 3, 2012,

12. "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."
-mflcs, Oct, 3, 2012,

13. "I am 58 and grew up in a rural area of Central Illinois. I know that both the "n--ger*" 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 "nigger" version."
-mplsray, Oct. 4, 2012,

14. 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. But my grandmother, born in 1884, daughter of missionaries and grown up on a Blackfeet reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho and later in California, taught me two other versions, completely different, which I liked simply because they were different and fun to say:

Eeny, meeny, miney, mo,
Crack a feeny finey foe.
Ippa nuja poppa tuja,
ick, bick, ban, dao.


One-ree, orey, ickery ann,
Philisy, pholisy, Nicholas John.
Queevy, quavy, English Navy,
Stickolum, stackolum, John Buck.

The spelling in both is pure guesswork, of course.

Her father claimed English ancestry. Could he have taught her the second one, perhaps? Could the first one include some counting in the Blackfeet language, or are those nonsense syllables? I suppose I'll never know"
-Rch, Jan 23, 2014,

15. When I was a kid we used the "n--ger*" 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.")

As for Rch's alternates, ZUI The Outdoor Handy Book, by Daniel Carter Beard (1896):

One-ry, or-ry, ickery, Ann!
Fillison, follison, Nicholas, John.
Queevy, quavy, English Navy,
Stinckelum, stanklum, Buck!

Or, as it is sometimes repeated:

One-ery, two-ery, hickory han,
Fillison, follison, Nicholas, John.
Queevy, quavy, Virgin Mary,
Stingelum, stangelum, berry buck!

He then goes on to list a few more variants. The whole section on "How to Count Out" can be read on Google Books; I found it by doing a Google search for fillison follison."
-RMS1(SS), Jan 24, 2014,

15. 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."...
-bennymix, Jan 24, 2014,

16. "USA, central Oklahoma, born in the mid-1970s... The only version I heard as a child was "catch a tiger" and "make him pay 50 dollars every day". (Or "catch a ___" where the blank is filled in with the listener's name. Playfully grab big toe at that moment.) I never knew there was any other way to say it until recently. Certainly I had never heard it said with the N-word or any other racist intent.
-Bouncey (talk) 22:36, 2 January 2008,,_meeny,_miny,_moe

17. "I was born in 1966 (New York City) and when I was a little boy (1970's) we sang: Eenie Meeny Miny Moe catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers let him go, my mother says to pick this one and out goes Y-O-U (and we sometimes followed that up with - "and you are not it") I personally never heard the "N" word version until the Pulp Fiction movie."
- (talk)AR,,_meeny,_miny,_moe

18. "Eeny meeny miney mo
Catch a tiger by the toe
If he hollers make him pay
50 dollars every day
My mother said to pick the very best one
And you are not it
With a dirty dirty dishrag on your toe.
eny meeny miney mo

Source: USA (south St. Louis, Missouri), circa early 1980's"  
- [This website is no longer available,]

"Bizarre twist- in the New York neighborhood where I grew up, kids always said "Catch a NICKEL (???) by the toe."

Now, obviously, "nickel" makes no sense, but none of us thought much about it- after all, MOST childish rhymes didn't make much sense to us.

It was only years later that I figured out "nickel" was simply a sanitized version of the older, more offensive rhyme."
-astorian, 03-06-2003, "Does "Eenie Meenie Miney Moe" have racist origins?"

 "Originally posted by Jomo Mojo 

When I was a little kid in the early 1960s, I learned it as “catch a tiger by the toe.” I never heard of the racist version until many years later.
[end of quote] 

I grew up in the 60’s too, but it was just the opposite. The first time I heard someone use “tiger” I told them they were saying it wrong. (hey, I was just a kid. what did I know?:smack: )"
-pkbites, March 2003, "Does "Eenie Meenie Miney Moe" have racist origins?"

21, "I can recall hearing this as a child growing up in Houston, Texas in the mid to late 60’s, and what I first remembered hearing was "catch a n**ger by the toe, if he hollers let him go’.

My SO says that she recalls hearing the exact same wording as a child in the late 40’s, while growing up in Washington state (Pacific Northwest)."
-JBDivmstr Guest, Sept. 2013, "Does "Eenie Meenie Miney Moe" have racist origins?"
That is how the n word was spelled in that comment.

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