Wednesday, April 03, 2013


Eli 11.8 has progressed to the point that he tells me as many interesting things as I tell him.

Today, he told me about the origins of two nursery rhymes.

I'd never heard of this one, but he said children sang it during the 1918 flu pandemic:
I had a little bird
Her name was Enza
I opened up the window
And influenza

He also told me the origins of this classic children's rhyme:
Ring around the rosy 
A pocketful of posies 
Ashes ashes 
We all fall down

His explanation was that this was in reference to the era of The Plague in Europe. "Ring around the rosy" was walking in circles around the roses on a grave. People put posies in their pocket to mask the smell of the plague. "Ashes ashes" refers to the burning of bodies. "We all fall down" is in reference to everyone dying.

As it turns out, he was right on the first, but wrong on the second. There's a fascinating history of Ring Around the Rosie at Snopes, and while the plague is a popular origin explanation (and one that seemingly fits quite well, and cleverly), it's not correct. Here's an excerpt:
The more likely explanation is to be found in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the "play-party." Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment.

Both of these were discussed at school, by the way. Sixth grade is apparently much more interesting in his day than it was in mine.

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