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10 Nursery Rhyme Origins That Will Change Their Meaning Forever

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

You may remember many of these nursery rhymes for your childhood, but have you ever thought about where they came from?

Some of these popular rhymes come for centuries ago when it was a very different world. From discussing poverty to the ruling king or queen, these poems were a testament of the time.

While you may not always need to read between the lines, some of these classic nursery rhymes have an interesting origin that you may not want to tell your kids about.

This Old Man

"This old man, he played one, He played knick-knack on my thumb, With a knick-knack paddywhack, Give a dog a bone, This old man came rolling home."

Remember this one?

This traditional rhyme was published in 1906 but originates from the time of the Irish potato famine.

The term Paddy is still used by the English to refer to the Irish. Historically there is a great deal of resentment by the Irish people towards the English after they were conquered in the sixteenth century. The English then owned much of the best land and rented houses and farms to the native Irish. The staple food of the Irish was the potato, but in 1845 the potato crop failed which resulted in a famine that led to a 25% reduction of the Irish population because of death or emigration.

With no help from the English, many Irish men became tinkers selling pots, pans, cutlery and other knickknacks door-to-door in England. Typically Irish tinkers lived in a caravan on wheels that was pulled by a horse, which is the meaning behind the term "rolling home".

Jack Be Nimble

"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick"

Originally published in 1815, it played on an old superstition. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was believed to be good luck to jump over a lighted candle without causing the flame to blow out.

Good thing Jack was quick!

Little Boy Blue

"Little Boy Blue, Come blow your horn, The sheep's in the meadow, The cow's in the corn; Where is that boy Who looks after the sheep? Under the haystack fast asleep. Will you wake him? Oh no, not I, For if I do he will surely cry."

You may remember this rhyme from books, and shows, but this old nursery dates back to 1744. This is a rhyme that warns shepherds about the dangers of falling asleep instead of watching their flock.

The rhyme itself, has been suggested to be referring to Thomas Wosley, the son of a butcher who became a Cardinal during the reign of Henry VIII. He was said to be vain (blowing his own horn), and also kept riches for his own benefit instead of sharing them with his "flock".

Little Jack Horner

"Little Jack Horner, Sat in a corner, Eating his Christmas pie. He put in his thumb, And pulled out a plum, And said 'what a good boy am I'."

Originally published in 1725, it was thought to refer to a Jack Horner who lived at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. Horner served the abbot of Glastonbury and was told to take a huge piece of Christmas pie to the King. The plum inside refers to the deeds to the Manor of Mells in Somerset.

Old King Cole

"Old King Cole was a merry old soul, And a merry old soul was he, He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl And he called for his fiddlers three. Every fiddler he had a fiddle, And a very fine fiddle had he. Oh there's none so rare, as can compare With King Cole and his fiddlers three."

There were many regional kings that were named Coel in 1708 when the poem was first published. This particular rhyme is thought to be referring to 'The Old' Coel Hen. However, another view is that King Cole was referring to Thomas Colebrook, a medieval cloth merchant. The rhyme suggests that whoever King Cole was, he definitely loved music and enjoyed playing his pipe (recorder, flute or bagpipes) with a group of violinists.

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