10 Nursery Rhymes with Dark Backstories


10 Dark Nursery Rhymes Hey guys, Culture here. Today we’ll be discussing 10 Dark Nursery
Rhymes. More specifically, we’ll look at the origin
and hidden meaning behind these seemingly innocent stories. Nursery rhymes are one of those weird things
that we all seem to learn when we’re young yet have absolutely no use for past the age
of 5. So let’s look at the twisted reasons some
of these stories have become ingrained in our collective consciousness. Number 1: “Humpty Dumpty” is a popular nursery rhyme
character depicted as an anthropomorphic egg, sitting on a wall, and then shattering to
pieces once he falls off of it. Personally, I remember Humpty Dumpty from
the kid’s TV show Play School, where he was way less cool than Big Ted and Little
Ted. If you look at the poem he is from however,
Humpty Dumpty is never described physically. The most obvious dark explanation for this
nursery rhyme is that it’s the story of an actual man who fell asleep and plummeted
to his death. In reality there are actually numerous theories
about the rhyme’s origin. The most popular and likely theory comes from
the use of the phrase “Humpty Dumpty” as 1500’s British slang for a fat person. During the Second English Civil War in 1648
there was a mounted cannon on the roof of a church in Colchester that was incredibly
large and immoveable, therefore it was nicknamed “Humpty Dumpty.” The story goes that the man operating the
cannon, Jack Thompson, fought off many Parliamentarians in the siege of Colchester and drew the enemies’
ire. Thompson came under heavy fire which eventually destroyed the tower he was mounted
upon, bringing him and Humpty Dumpty crashing down. Of course, the cannon could no longer be put
back together again. Another theory states that the original rhyme
was more of a children’s riddle rather than a story, prompting the listener to guess what
Humpty Dumpty was. The answer was an egg, leading to his depiction
as an egg later on by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Number 2: “Ring around the Rosie” is a popular example
of a children’s song that is rumoured to have a dark story attached to it. In the most famous British version, the song
ends with the lyrics “a-tishoo, a-tishoo, we all fall down,” which apparently sounds
like people sneezing before keeling over and dying. This interpretation leads to the urban myth
that this rhyme is about the Black Death, an outbreak of Bubonic Plague that killed
one third of the human population in mid-14th century Europe. In this case, “Ring around the Rosie”
means some sort of lesion or bruise, and “pocket full of posies” relates to the spices used
by plague doctors to keep themselves from smelling the bad air of quarantined plague
zones. This idea is largely discredited however and
with good reason: Firstly, the poem first appeared in written form in 1881 in Kate Greenaway’s
“Mother Goose or The Old Nursery Rhymes.” That means the poem would need to have existed
for 500 years without anyone committing it to print; highly unlikely. Secondly, many other forms of the poem exist
that don’t contain any of the plague imagery. This is true for both English versions and
versions in other languages. It may be that “Ring around the Rosie”
is just a fun sounding child’s rhyme, but the plague interpretation is clearly interesting
enough to have piqued our interest. Number 3: “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” is a nursery rhyme
in which the singer asks the titular sheep if it has any wool. It responds by telling them how much it has,
as well as where it will distribute it. The version commonly sung nowadays says the
master, the dame and the little boy each receive one bag. However the oldest surviving version written
in 1744 states the sheep has two bags for the master, one for the dame, but none for
the little boy who cries down the lane. Obviously this version is much sadder, explaining
why it was changed for use as a kid’s song. But some people believe there is also a political
message behind the lyrics. In the late 13th century a heavy tax on wool
trade was implemented by King Edward the First to fund his military ventures. As such, the money gained from selling the
wool would no longer stretch to accommodate the needs of the poor or, in other words,
the little boy. Of course the more recent interpretation you
may have heard is that the rhyme is about the slave trade. This notion is just ridiculous however; it
has no basis in historical fact. In any case, if that were true, the “black
wool” is actually more valuable as it doesn’t need to be dyed to make dark clothes. Unfortunately, we already had some people
in Oxfordshire change the lyrics to “Baa baa rainbow sheep” so all logic has gone
out the window at this point. Number 4: ”Goosey Goosey Gander” involves a narrator
wondering where he will go, whereupon he finds an old man and pushes him down a flight of
stairs. Some claim that this is about King Henry VIII,
creator of the Church of England, and serial wife divorce-er. When he couldn’t get divorced under the
Catholic Church, King Henry created the Church of England and decreed that everyone should
follow him. During this time, Catholic Priests were treated
harshly and even executed if found and so they often hid in “Priest Holes”, essentially
secret spaces in the houses of their friends. It’s possible that the old man who wouldn’t
say his prayers is a Catholic Priest hiding from the wrath of the Protestants, and throwing
him down the stairs is a reference to punishment that Henry would impose. A more risqué interpretation of the poem
suggests that “goose” is euphemism for a prostitute. In this case the poem is about a dirty old
man found in the brothel owner’s “lady’s chamber”. Number 5: ”Rock a Bye Baby,” is a lullaby that many
mothers sing to their children when putting them to sleep. Of course it’s not hard to imagine how this
lullaby could be dark when it literally involves a baby falling out of a tree, but perhaps
surprising is just how many theories there as to the lullaby’s true meaning. It’s possible that the story could be another
political allegory from days of old. Preceding the historical event known as the
“Glorious Revolution” then then-king of England, James the Second, was about to have
his first heir. Controversy surrounded the incident though
as people gossiped that someone else’s child was smuggled in to the birthing room to provide
James the Second with a Roman Catholic heir to the throne. This heir would be the “baby” in the lullaby,
whilst the “wind” refers to James the Second’s Nephew, William of Orange, who
was a Protestant. He deposed James the Second causing the “cradle”,
or the family line, to fall. A less convoluted explanation suggests the
poem was written by an English immigrant to America who witnessed the Native American
way of life. It was common for women to place their babies
in cradles hung from tree branches with the wind rocking their child to sleep. Of course that would make the last line quite
literal, and still quite dark. Number 6: ”Three Blind Mice” has sometimes been
attributed to Mary I of England, though the earlier versions of the song don’t appear
until long after her death. This rhyme is another case of Catholic-Protestant
hatred for one another… if only all fights were settled with cheery children’s rhymes. In the revised version, the three mice have
their tails cut off by the farmer’s wife with a carving knife. Some have said that the three mice are Protestant
Bishops, with their “blindness” being their spiritual blindness according to the
Catholic Church. The Farmer’s Wife could be Mary herself,
as she had three individuals, known as the “Oxford Martyrs,” executed. She didn’t chop them up or blind them, though,
as they were burned at the stake. Number 7: The rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin?” essentially consists of how different animals
are involved in the death and subsequent funeral procession of Cock Robin. There are plenty of political interpretations
akin to the other nursery rhymes we’ve discussed so far but “Who Killed Cock Robin?” has
a particularly odd association. It’s possible that the song is actually
an allusion to the Norse story of Ragnarok. This tale is quite dark, because it is literally
about the murder of the god of light. In the original tale, Loki, god of Trickery,
convinces the blind god Hodur to shoot an arrow at his brother, letting him think that
it would bounce off of him harmlessly. Unfortunately, the arrow was the only thing
that could harm Baldur, and he dies, leading the world into an extended period of winter
and darkness. Number 8: ”Rub-a-dub-dub,” like many other nursery
rhymes, appears to be quite nonsensical, with it being about three men in a tub and sailing
in it. But, the original version actually puts three
maids in the tub; finally, a rhyme with a bit of “sauciness” behind its meaning. The setting is a local fair with a peep show,
and the rhyme asks the listener who they thought were there. So, the Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick
Maker weren’t all palling around on a fantastic voyage, but all three of them were watching
quite the spectacle, seeing some young ladies take a bath. And here I was thinking that 3 men taking
a bath together out at sea was a joke about the navy… I’m gonna catch some flak for that joke,
aren’t I? Number 9: ”Pop! Goes the Weasel” delights children and scares
the living daylights out of anyone who has ever used a jack-in-the-box for 200 years,
but if those who listen to it are like the monkey and think “it’s all in good fun,”
they are mistaken. If you’re like me you probably never realised
the song even had lyrics but indeed it does… about 5 verses actually. Many versions of this song exist, but all
talk about financial situations, including lines like “A penny for a spool of thread/
a nickel for a needle-/that’s the way the money goes.” The song is mostly about the hard times people
go in when trying to make a living in a poor economic environment. The “weasel” is a mechanical thread-measuring
device used by people in the textiles industry to get the right length of yarn. It makes a “pop” sound when the correct
length is reached, so it could be that each verse is a day-dreaming thought by the worker
who is suddenly plunged back into reality by the “pop” sound. A later version of the song even adds in disease
to the mix: “Jimmy’s got the whooping cough, and Timmy’s got the measles.” Yeesh, come on people; lighten it up a little
bit. Number 10: Even “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” has a
seedy backstory. Earlier publications of the song are associated
with American Minstrel shows, known for their use of blackface. But besides this association, the song is
really an allegory for life itself. The most basic interpretation is that time
carries onward whether we like it to or not, and all we can do is row with it and take
on a positive mindset. The last line, “life is but a dream”,
is kind of sad when you think about it. It’s an illusion we put up, we construct
meaning to give our lives when in reality we’re all just flowing down a stream towards…
well… the inevitable. If you ask me, a nursery rhyme about the senseless
nature of life is the darkest topic one could imagine. Or hey, you know, it could just be a jaunty
tune about how peaceful it is to take in nature as you travel down a river… yeah, let’s
go with that. See you all next week!

100 thoughts on “10 Nursery Rhymes with Dark Backstories

  1. Great big globs of greasy grimy gopher guts, mutilated money meat, chopped up birdy feet, French fried eyeballs Rollin in some turtle blood, mommy I forgot my spoon, but I got my straw slurp slurp slurp

  2. I sneezed as soon as culture said “a-tishoo a-tishoo we all fall down”

  3. I actually made a parody song of ring around a Rosie "ring around a Rosie let the plauge control me ashes ashes we all fall down"

  4. Huh my music teacher taught the dark versions of those, also is it wierd that i think the "dark" versioans make them funny

  5. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty Say Jake Paul, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

  6. There are thomas and friends versions of pop goes the weasel like pop goes the diesel and pop goes old olli.

  7. Most nuresy rhymes and fairytales in general are pretty dark. Especially grims fairytales.

  8. You forgot "I love you, you love me" yeah it's a Barney song, but I want to know the dark backstory, whispering I want to know.

  9. My earliest memory is of thinking "Why is the baby falling out of a tree?"

  10. What I sought Black Sheep want to like this 2 for the master one for the Dane 1 For the little boy who lived down the

  11. Rock a by baby sounds like the the darkest one yet when I heard that a baby fell off a tree

  12. in norwegian the sheep one is "sunday clothes to father, sundays clothes to mother, and to pair of socks to little little brother" (sounds better in norwegian) I like that ending, everyone gets clothes, but I guess little brother did not get happy. I don't think he wanted socks 😛
    it's also little labmb not black or any other color of sheep

  13. Ring around the Rosie:
    Nuke around the planet aches aches everything is burnt we all die

  14. wheres "jack and jill" and the fun game "hangman" i know hangman is no rhyme but its really dark seeing as how it refrences to suicide,and in jack and jill ,jacks crown breaks but its not the kind of crown you think it is,its not a royal crown,its his skull.

  15. my mom changed the lyrics to rock a bye baby so that when the baby falls mommy will catch you cradle and all, yeah

  16. I say ashes ashes they all fall down
    As in people ashes (Black Death)

  17. cleanup cleanup you've had your fun and now you're done you better cleanup before i get my gun

  18. Well then, Marvel, Make Loki have a flashabck to when he convinced herderr to kill Belterr (#I buthered those names so hard)

  19. Ring around the rosey is actually about soldiers. The "We all fall down" part is soldiers dieing and falling. The "rosey" part also has to do with it but I forgot what it was. I think its because roses are red and so is blood so its blood splatter? Idk

  20. Will anybody ever read these to there kids I know I had but there just dumb and pointless.

  21. Last year i learned the backstory to ring a round the rosie from my music teacher, she told us cover our ear if you didn't want your childhood ruined… In my head i was thinking "My childhood is the Twin Towers" (Sorry to people who get offended) btw im a preteen so im not that old

  22. Im surprised you didnt do the one about someone LITERALLY DYING IN THEIR SLEEP! you know "its raining, its pouring, the old man is snoring, he went to bed, he bumped his head, and couldnt get up in the morning". I thought that one was obvious

  23. Fun fact: there is place in the rhyme where they say Humpty Dumpty is an egg 🙂

    He's an egglant

  24. Humpty Dumpty was a large cannon used in the English civil war at the battle of Gloucester to try and destroy the multiple metre thick wall, failing badly and blowing itself up on the first shot.

  25. I learned ring around the mosie as ring around the mosie pockets full of possie ashes ashes we all fall down

  26. Baa baa black sheep do you have a soul ? Yes sir ,by the way what the h##l are mortals?

  27. Did anyone but me laugh at the rape face Humpty was making at the beginning of the video?

  28. i told my bully humpty dumpty ment fat person, now my bully calls me humpty dumpty 🙁

  29. Row, Row, Row Your Boat
    Gently down the stream!
    Merily, merily, merily, merily
    LIFE IS BUT A DREAM!

  30. Watching this is like an old horror amusement park. I remember the parts in the ride but didn't see the certain darker moments.

  31. Ring around the rosy didn’t need to survive hundreds of years. If the person who created it knew about the Black Plague then they could’ve based it on that. And seeing that we still know about it now despite how long ago it was, it’s completely possible someone in the 1800’s would have known about it.

  32. you realize that the one about the cannon and humpty dumpty is fake right? the dude who found it didn't sight any sources other than a book that he found in a dusty library. He also claimed that there was another verse that didn't even use the same terminology as the rest of the rhyme, and also he didn't use the original rhyme

  33. What is this? A culture crash intro that doesn't blast your ears into oblivion? I'm impressed.

  34. Humpty Dumpty was just a cannon (most likely) not a very good example of a "Dark Backstory" considering the main nursery rhyme is darker. A person falling apart and being unable to be put back together.

  35. Fun fact about the black death: The fleas were also sick and diseased, they had a major virus inside them making them far more lethal which blocked their stomach tracks, leaving them to become hungrier and hungrier, constantly sucking blood but getting no food from it due to this virus, which made them even more ravenous and bloodthirsty.

  36. i miss when you did lists with crash. but I get it, Valentine's a busy voice actor. and other reasons I don't know.

  37. are my sisters from (you know what) cause they do the "ring around the rosie" one almost everyday

  38. Ring around the Rosie pockets full of poise ASHES ASHES WE ALL fall D O W N 😄

  39. There were plague outbreaks throught the early modern era, and never really disapeared until the advent of modern antibiotics…

  40. What about Oranges and Lemons and Mary, Mary?

    Oranges and Lemons is a song where different churches talk to each other and rhyme their words with the town that they come from, then the "chopper" appears and the children sing "chop! chop! chop! chop! the last man's dead!"

    Mary, Mary is about Mary I, and Silver Bells, Cockle Shells, and Pretty Maids refer to torture devices.

  41. When I was young I was told the version of "Baa Baa Black Sheep" where the master got 2, the dame got 1, and the boy got none.

  42. My grandmother used to sing me a lullaby which translates to "Whom should I give this baby to? If I give it to the old woman she will keep it for a week, if I give it to the Boogeyman he will keep it for a whole year, if I give it to Baby Jesus he will keep it forever and never give it back to me". I still don't get what the old woman and Boogeyman mean, I guess it's because they rhyme with "week" and "whole" in my language… but Baby Jesus? Are you telling me that I can die in my sleep and hope Baby Jesus takes me with him if that happens? Like "if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take"?

  43. I have a new version of Humpty Dumpty

    humpty dumpty sat on a wall
    humpty dumpty had a great fall
    all the kings horses and all the kings men wouldn't put humpty together again
    CUZ HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS EVIL

  44. me and my friend were listening to nursery rhymes (idk why XD) and when that it's raining it's pouring thing came on at the end after they said, "and couldn't wake up in the morning" she would then say, "because he's dead" really fast. XD and, rock a bye baby is about a baby falling out of a tree

  45. Ring around the rosie is about the bubonic plague. The ring around the rosie is a ring around the red pustule, and then the infected people would have posies in their pockets to hide the smell. And then the ashes ashes we all fall down is describing the death and the burning of the bodies.

  46. "a-tissue, a-tissue, we all fall down"? I always thought it ended "ashes ashes we all fall down"

  47. JACK THOMSON!? We meet again, my arch nemesis!

    If you didn't know, a guy called Jack Thomson (from the 21 century) was a former lawyer and was and still is to this day, a big enemy to violent video games.

    F*ck him!

  48. Where is wheels on the bus?
    Bc I found that scary too me

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