Each one of us is very familiar with those classic nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes, also known as Mother Goose rhymes, can be broadly defined as short songs and verses often read or sung to, or by, young children. Generally, these verses are anonymous, although the term nursery rhyme has also been applied to works written by known authors. Many familiar nursery rhymes are centuries old and originated as part of a long oral tradition.
But do you know the meanings of these poems or where and how these poems actually originated from? Below are five infamous nursery rhymes with their theories that you have never thought of.
1) BAA BAA, BLACK SHEEP (1731)
Most scholars agree that “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” is about the Great Custom, a tax on wool that was introduced in 1275. The use of the color black and the word “master” led some to wonder whether there was a racial message at its center. Its was called into question yet again in the latter part of the 20th century, with some schools banning it from being repeated in classrooms, and others simply switching out the word “black” for something deemed less offensive.
2) JACK AND JILL (1765)
One of the most common theories surrounding the story’s origin is that it’s about France’s Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were both found guilty of treason and subsequently beheaded. The only problem is that those events occurred nearly 30 years after “Jack and Jill” was first written. The more likely possibility is that it’s an account of King Charles I’s attempt to reform the tax on liquid measures.
3) LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN (1744)
Depending on whom you ask, “London Bridge is Falling Down” could be about a 1014 Viking attack, child sacrifice, or the normal deterioration of an old bridge. But the most popular theory seems to be that first one. More specifically: the alleged destruction of London Bridge at the hands of Olaf II of Norway some time in the early 1000s.
4) THREE BLIND MICE (1805)
According to the theory, the trio in question believed to be a group of Protestant bishops—Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley, and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer—who (unsuccessfully) conspired to overthrow the queen and were burned at the stake for their heresy. Critics suggest that the blindness in the title refers to their religious beliefs.
5) RING AROUND THE ROSIE (1881)
Of all the alleged nursery rhyme backstories, “Ring Around the Rosie” is probably the most infamous. Though its lyrics and even its title have gone through some changes over the years, the most popular contention is that it refers to the 1665 Great Plague of London.“The rosie” is the rash that covered the afflicted, the smell from which they attempted to cover up with “a pocket full of posies.” The plague killed nearly 15 percent of the country’s population, which makes the final verse—“Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down” which is self-explanatory.