Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Children's Rhymes. Children's Games, Children' s Songs, Children's Stories
Counting-Out Rhymes

THE use of doggerel rhymes by children in playing their out-of-door games, to decide by the last word which of their number shall be "it'' or "takkie," in games like "Hide and Seek" and "I Spy," must be familiar to every reader who has hid any youth worthy of being so called. What is not well known, however, is the fact that some of them—the rhymes, I mean—that very common one in particular, beginning—"One-ery, two-ery, tickery, seven," and its fellow in like respect, with the opening line—"Eny, meeny, manny, mo"—have, in almost identical form, been in active use by the wee folks for hundreds of years, as they are still, in nearly every country of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. "That the pastime has been common among the children of civilized and semi-civilized races alike is certainly of curious interest, and yet investigation has proved this to be the case. Not only so, but the form of use is nearly always identical. A leader, as a rule self-appointed, having; engaged the attention of the boys and girls about to join in a proposed game, arranges them either in a row or in a circle around him. He then repeats the rhyme, fast or slow, as he is capable or disposed, pointing with the hand or forefinger to each child in succession, not forgetting himself, and allotting to each one word of the Mysterious formula. It may be, for example:-

Eeny, meeny, manmay, mo,
Catch a n----- by the toe
When he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, manny, mo.

Having completed the verse, the child on whom the last word falls is said to be "out," and steps aside. At each repetition one in like manner steps aside, and the one who survives the ordeal until all the rest have been "chapped" or "titted " out is declared "it" or "takkie," and the game proceeds forthwith. Sometimes the formula employed in certain parts of Scotland, as I recollect, was for each boy to insert his finger into the Ieader's cap, around which all the company stood. The master of the ceremonies then with his finger allotted a word to each "finger in the pie." It might be:-

Eenity, feenity, fickety, feg,
El, del, domen, egg,
Irky, birky, story, rock,
Ann, Dan, Toosh, Jock.

With the pronouncement of the word "Jock," the M.C.'s finger came down with a whack which made the one "chapped out" be withdrawn in a "hunder hurries." In some parts of America a peculiar method obtains. The alphabet is repeated by the leader, who assigns one letter to each child in the group, and when a letter falls to a child which is the same as the initial of his last name, that child falls out, and this is continued, observing the same plan, until only one child remains, who is "it." There are other forms, too, but none strikingly dissimilar. Where the little ones have been in haste to proceed with the game, and in no mood to waste time in counting out each one to the last, they have taken the sharper process of saying:-

Red, white, yellow, blue,
All out but you,

and by the first reading fixed the relationship of parties.

Now, a very important and interesting feature of these rhymes and their application, as I have said, is found in the fact that they prevail in a more or less identical form all over the world. When this is so, their common origin is placed almost beyond dispute. The question only, which perhaps no one can answer, is—Whence come the they? It would not be hazarding too much to say, I think, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in their turn as boys, with other boys of their time, each used a form of counting-out rhyme in the manner and for the purpose for which they are still in vogue by the boys and girls of the present day. Undoubtedly they found a precedent, if they did not actually themselves exercise a part, in the very ancient custom of casting lots, which prevailed among the heathen as well as among the chosen people of God in very early times. From sacred history we learn that lots were used to deckle measures to be taken in battle; to select champions in individual contests; to determine the partition of conquered or colonised lands; in the division of spoil; in the appointment of Magistrates and other functionaries; in the assignment of priestly offices; and in criminal investigations, when doubt existed as to the real culprit. Among the Israelites, indeed, the casting of lots was divinely ordained as a method of ascertaining the Holy will, and its use on many interesting occasions is described in the Holy Scriptures. The simplicity of the process, and its unanswerable result, were appreciated by Solomon, who says: ''The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty" (Prov. xviii. 18). In New Testament times, again, Matthias was chosen by lot to "take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away" (Acts i. 24 - 26). The Babvlonians, when about to wage war against another nation, were wont to determine which city should be attacked first by casting lots in a peculiar manner. The names of the cities were written on arrows. These were shaken in a bag, and the one drawn decided the matter (see Ezekiel xxi. 21-22). A like method of divination, called belomany, was current among the Arabians before Mahomet's rise, though it was afterwards prohibited by the Koran. By imitation of their elders, to which children are constantly prone—in the making of "housies" in nursing of dolls, etc. etc.---doubtless there came the counting-out rhyme. What is not so easily understood is their existence in so many identical forms in so many widely distant lands. As an example of how cosmopolitan some of them are, let us track a familiar enough one for a fair distance and see how it appears in the national garb of the various countries in which it has found bed. hoard, and hiding. All over Britain and America it goes:—

One. two, buckle my shoe,
Three, four, open the door,
Five, six, pick up the sticks,
Seven, eight, lay them straight,
Nine, ten, a good fat hen.
Eleven, twelve, bake it well,
Thirteen, fourteen, maids a-courting,
Fifteen, sixteen, maids a-kissing,
Seventeen, eighteen, maids a-waiting,
Nineteen, twenty, my stomach's empty.

In Germany it is found in various forms, but one will suffice:—

1, 2, Polizei,
3, 4, Offizier,
5, 6, Alte Hex,
7, 8, Gute Nacht,
9, 10, Auf Wiedersehen,
11, 12, Junge Wolf,
13, 14, Blaue Schurzen,
15, 16, Alte Hexen,
17, 18, Madle Wachsen,
19. 20, Gott Verdanzig.

In France it also appears in various forms, and the children of Paris, not disposed to waste time and energy, cut it briefly, as follows:—

Un, deux, trois,
Tu ne l'es pas,
Quatre, cinq, six,
Va t'en d'ici.

In Italy a form goes:—

Pan uno, pan duo,
Pan tre, pan quattro,
Pan cinque pan sie,
Pan sette, pan otto,

And versions, all revealing a common origin, might be quoted in the languages of many more countries, but we can employ our space to better purpose. With regard to the rhyme already quoted, beginning, "Eenity, feenity, fickety, feg," it has been asked whether the second line, "El, del, domen, egg,'' would not warrant the conclusion that it sprang into existence on the streets, and among the children, of Ancient Rome. Perhaps it did; for who can say it did not? There is that very common one all over Scotland, which, it will be remembered, that wonderful child, Marjorie Fleming, played off on Sir Walter Scott:—

One-ery, two-ery, tickery, seven,
Alibi, crackaby, ten and eleven;
Pin, plan, musky dan;
Tweedle-um, twoddle-um, twenty-one;
Eerie, orie, ourie. You are out!

A similar formula, only in lightly varying words, is found in the folk-lore of almost every country in the world. Commenting on the opening line, the late Mr. Charles G. Leland, author of the Hans Breitmann ballads, and an acknowledged authority on the language and customs of the Eastern Gypsies, sets against it a Romany stanza, used as a spell, beginning:-

Ekkeri, akai-ri, you kiar-an.

and remarks that "Ekkeri, akai-ri," literally translated, just gives the familiar "One-ery, two-ery," which is
entymologically analogous to "Hickory, dickory,'' in the all-pervading nursery rhyme:–

Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one, and down the mouse ran,
Hickory, dickorv, dock.

An American version of which, by the bye, goes:-

Hiddlety, diddlety, dumpty,
The cat ran up the plum tree
Half-a-crown to fetch her down,
Hiddlety, diddlety, dumpty.

But still, before leaving the familiar chapping-out rhyme of Marjorie Fleming, let us see how it occurs again in Scotland and among the children of some of the other English-speaking nations, to go no further. Charles Taylor, in the Magpie; or Chatterings of the Pica, published at Glasgow in 1820, gives it thus:-

Anery, twaery. duckery, seven,
Alama, crack. ten am eleven;
Peem, pom, it must be done,
Come teetle, come total, come twenty-one.

and remarks:—"This is reported to have originated with the Druids; the total number of words is twenty-one, and it seems to be a mixture of words put into rhyme." In the streets and lanes and open spaces of Aberdeen it runs:—

Enerv, twa-ery, tuckery, taven,
Halaba, crackery, ten or eleven;
Peen, pan, musky dan,
Feedelam, Fadelam, twenty-one.

In the county of Wexford, in Ireland, it goes:—

One-ery. two-ery, dickery, Davy,
Hallabone, crackabone, tenery, Navy
Discome, dandy, merry-come-tine,
Humbledv, bumbledy, twenty-nine,
O-U-'I', out. You must go out!

In the Midlands of England:-

One-ery, two-ery, dickery, dee,
Halibo, crackibo, dandilee;
Pin, pan, muskee dan,
'Twiddledum. twaddledum, twenty-one,
BIack fish, white trout,
Eeny, meeny, you go out.

In Massachusetts, U.S., America:—

Ena, deena, dina, dust,
Catler, wheeler, whiler, whust
Spin, spon, must be done,
Twiddleum, twaddleum, twenty-one.

In the island of Guernsey:—

Eena, deena, dina, duss,
Catalaweena, wina, wuss;
Tittle, tattle, what a rattle,
O-U-T spells out!

Another Scotch version:-

One-ery, two-ery, tickery, ten,
Bobs of vinegar, gentlemen;
A bird in the air, a fish in the sea
A bonnie wee lassie come singing to thee.
One, two, three!

Of the "Eeny, feenity, fickety, feg " rhyme, we find these evident varieties. This, said to be used in the West of Scotland:—

Zeeny, meeny, ficketv, fick,
Deal, doll, dominick
Zanty-panty, on a rock, toosh.

This in Cumberland:-

Eeny, pheeny, figgery, fegg,
Deely, dyly, ham and egg;
Calico back, and stony rock,
Arlum, barlum, bash!

In the United States:--

Inty, minty, tipity, fig,
Dinah, donah, norma, nig,
Oats, floats, country notes
Dinah, Jonah, tiz,
Out goes you!

This curious one in Edinburgh:--

Inty, tinty, tethery, methery,
Bank for over, Dover, ding,
Aut, taut, toosh;
Up the Causesy, down the Cross,
There stands a bonnie white horse;
It can gallop, it can trot,
It can carry the mustard pot.
One, two, three, out goes she!

Again, in Scotland:-

lnky, pinky, peerie-winkie,
Hi domin I.
Arky, parky, tarry rope,
Ann, tan, toozy Jock.

This is truly American--the first line of which, by the bye, is derived from, or is borrowed by, the College song, "King of the Cannibal Islands'':—

Hoky poky. winky, wum,
How do you like your 'taters done?
Snip, snap, snorum,
High popolorum,
Kate go scratch it,
You are out!

That this also is from beyond the "pond" is evident:—

As I was walking down the lake,
I met a little rattlesnake.
I gave him so much, jelly-cake,
It made his little belly ache.
One, two, three, out goes she!

In the West of Scotland they sometimes say:—

Ease, ose, man's nose;
Cauld parritch, pease brose.

Forfarshire bairns say:-

Eemer-awmer, Kirsty Gawmer,
Doon i' Carnoustie, merchant-dale.
Leddy Celestie, Sandy Testie,
Bonnie poppy-show,

And elsewhere, but still in Scotland:—

Eatum, peatum, potum, pie,
Babylonie, stickum, stie.
Dog's tail, hog's snout,
I'm in, you're out.


Eerie, orie, owre the dam,
Fill your poke and let us gang;
Black fish and white trout,
Eerie, orie, You are out.

Another goes:-

A ha'penny puddin', a ha'penny pie.
Stand you there, you're out by.

The last appears in Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland, winch interesting collection embraces also the next two. First:--

My grandfather's man and me fell out,
How will we bring the matter about?
We'll bring it about as weel as we can,
And a' for the sake o' my grandfather's man.


Master Foster, very good man,
Sweeps his college now and than,
After that he takes a dance.
Up from London down to France,
With a black bonnet and a white snout,
Stand you there, you are out.

In Glasgow, I am told, the next one used to be common:-

As I gaed up the apple tree
A' the apples fell on me;
Bake a puddin', bake a pie,
Send it up to John Mackay
John Mackay is no in.
Send it up to the man i' the mune;
The man i' the mune's mendin' his shoon,
Three bawbees and a farden in.

Also this:—

As I went up the apple tree,
All the apples fell on me
Bake a puddin', bake a pie,
Did you ever tell a lie?
Yes I did, and many times.
O-U-T. out goes she,
Right in the middle of the deep blue sea.

And this:---

Eerie, orie, ickery, am.
Pick ma nick, and slick ma slam.
Oram, scoram. pick ma noram,
Shee, show, sham, shutter.

In England and Scotland alike this has been used. with slight variations, for at least a hundred years:—

As I went up the brandy hill,
I met my father, wi' gude will
He had jewels, he had rings,
He had mony braw things;
He'd a cat and nine tails,
He'd a hammer wantin' nails.
Up Jock, doun Tam,
Blaw the bellows, auld man.
The auld man took a dance,
First to London, then to France.


Queen, Queen Caroline,
Dipped her hair in turpentine;
Turpentine made it shine,
Queen, Queen Caroline.

And yet another:-

Tit, tat. toe.
Here I go,
And if I miss,
I pitch on this.

The following have long been in active use all over Scotland, if not also elsewhere:-

Zeenty, teentv, halligo lum,
Pitchin' tawties doun the lum.
Wha's there? Johnnie Blair.
What d'ye want? A bottle o' beer.
Where's your money? In my purse.
Where's your purse? In my pocket.
Where's your pocket? I forgot it.
Go down the stair, you silly blockhead.

Zeenty, teenty, alligo, dan.
Bobs o' vinegar, gentleman,
Kiss, toss, mouse, fat,
Bore a needle, bum a fiddle,
Jink ma jeerie, jink my jve,
Stand you there, you're out bye.

One, two, three, four,
Jenny at the cottage door,
Eating cherries aff a plate,
Five, six, seven, eight.

Zeenty, teenty, feggerie. fell,
Pompaleerie jig.
Every man who has no hair
Generally wears a wig.

Mistress Mason broke a basin.
How much will it be?
Half-a-crown. Lay it down.
Out goes she!

One, two, three, four. five, six, seven,
All good children go to heaven
When they die their sin's forgiven,
One, two, three, four. five, six, seven.

One, two, three, fur, five, six, seven,
All good children go to heaven
A penny by the water,
Tuppence by the sea,
Threepence by the railway,
Out goes she!

Me and the minister's wife coost out.
Guess ye what it was about?
Black puddin', dish-clout,
Eerie, orrie, you are out!

Master Monday, how's your wife?
Very sick, and like to die.
Can she eat? O yes,
As much as I can buy.
She makes the porridge very thin,
A pound of butter she puts in,
Black puddin', white clout,
Eerie, orrie, you are out!

Inky pinky, my black hen
Lays eggs for gentlemen;
Whiles ane, whiles twa,
Whiles a bonnie black craw.

Eeny, meeny, clean peeny,
If you want a piece and jeely,
Just walk out!

John says to John,
How much are your geese?
John says to John,
Twenty cents a-piece.
John says to John,
That's too dear;
John says to John,
Get out of here!

Ching, Ching, Chinaman,
How do you sell your fish?
Ching, Ching, Chinaman,
Six bits a dish.

Ching, Ching, Chinaman,
Oh! that's too dear;
Ching, Ching, Chinaman,
Clear out of here!

Lemons and oranges, two for a penny,
I'm a good scholar that counts so many.
The rose is red, the leaves are green,
The days are past that I have seen.

I doot, I doot.
My fire is out,
And my little dog's not at home;
I'll saddle my cat, and I'll bridle my dog,
And send my little boy home.
Home, home again. home!

Jenny, good spinner,
Come down to your dinner,
And taste the leg of a roasted frog!
I pray ye, good people,
Look owre the kirk steeple,
And see the cat play wi' the dog!

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,
Haud the horse till I win on;
Haud him siccar, haud him fair,
Haud him by a pickle hair.
One, two, three,
You are out!

Around the house, arickity-rare,
I hope we'll meet the green canary;
You say ay, I say no,
Hold fast—let go!

Scottie Malottie, the king o' the Jews,
Sell't his wife for a pair o' shoes
When the shoes began to wear
Scottie Malottie began to swear.

In Dundee these lines are added to the "Eenity feenity" rhyme:—

Jock out, Jock in,
Jock through a hickle-pin.
Eetle-ottle, black bottle
Eetle-ottle, out!

This, more commonly used as a test of truth-telling (little fingers being linked while it is uttered). is also used on the East Coast as a counting-out rhyme:—

I ring, I ring, a pinky!
If I tell a lie
I'll go to the bad place
Whenever I die.
White pan, black pan,
Burn me to death,
Tak' a muckle gully
And cut my breath.
Ten miles below the earth.

But these all, of course, as already stated, have been delivered and acted, as they are still, rather as a prelude to the more elaborate games designed to follow than as a part of them, and to afford designedly the opportunity of deciding emphatically who shall be "it'' or "takkie."

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus