Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
|"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe"|
|Written||Britain or USA|
|Form||Nursery Rhyme and Counting-out game|
"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", which can be spelled a number of ways, is a children's counting rhyme, used to select a person to be "it" for games and similar purposes. The rhyme has existed in various forms since the 1850s, or perhaps earlier, and is common in many languages, with similar-sounding nonsense syllables.
Since many similar counting rhymes existed earlier, it is difficult to ascertain this rhyme's exact origin.
Common modern versions include:
- Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
- Catch a tiger by the toe.
- If he hollers let him go,
- Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Common variations, particularly in Britain, substitute "tinker" or "chicken" for tiger and use "squeals" rather than hollers. Sometimes additional lines are added at the end of the rhyme to draw out or manipulate the selection process or make it seem less predetermined, such as:
- Moe means no,
- So out you go!
- My mother told me to pick the best one,
- And you are not it!
Also sung as:
- My mother told me to pick the very best one,
- And that is Y-O-U.
Occasionally the line copies 'Ip dip':
- Not because you're dirty,
- Not because you're clean,
- Just because you kissed a boy/girl behind the magazine.
One major theory about the origins of the rhyme is that it is descended from Old English or Celtic counting, as can be seen in the East Anglian Shepherd's count, "Ina, mina, tehra, methera" or the Cornish "Eena, mea, mona, mite". However, the first record of the modern rhyme is from America, where, as early as 1815 children in New York are said to have repeated the rhyme:
- Hana, man, mona, mike;
- Barcelona, bona, strike;
- Hare, ware, frown, vanac;
- Harrico, warico, we wo, wac.
The rhyme seems to have been unknown in England among collectors until the late nineteenth century, although it was found by Henry Bolton in the USA, Ireland and Scotland in the 1880s. He also found a similar rhyme in German:
- Ene, tene, mone, mei,
- Pastor, lone, bone, strei,
- Ene, fune, herke, berke,
- Wer? Wie? Wo? Was?
- ubi eni mana bou,
- baji neki baji thou,
- elim tilim latim gou.
- Eeny, meena, mina, mo,
- Catch a nigger by the toe;
- If he squeals let him go,
- Eena, meena, mina, mo.
This version was similar to that reported as the most common version among American schoolchildren in 1888. It was used in the chorus of Bert Fitzgibbon's 1906 song "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo":
- Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,
- Catch a nigger by his toe,
- If he won't work then let him go;
- Skidum, skidee, skidoo.
- But when you get money, your little bride
- Will surely find out where you hide,
- So there's the door and when I count four,
- Then out goes you.
It was also used by Rudyard Kipling in his "A Counting-Out Song", from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935. This may have helped popularise this version in Britain where it seems to have replaced all earlier versions until late twentieth century.
Iona and Peter Opie pointed out in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes that the word "nigger" was common in American folk-lore, but unknown in any English traditional rhyme or proverb. This, combined with evidence of various other versions of the rhyme in England that predate this version, has been taken to suggest that this version originated in America.
Many people who grew up before the late 1960s are likely to report having heard or grown up with this controversial version of the rhyme. Since then, and especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this variation has become quite rare in the U.S, although it was used in television programs broadcast in Britain by the BBC as late as 1972 (see Television listing in Popular Culture, below).
There are considerable variations in the lyrics of the rhyme, including from early twentieth century in the United States of America:
- Eeny, meeny, miny moe,
- Catch a tiger by the toe.
- If he hollers make him pay,
- Fifty dollars every day.
A distinct version of the rhyme in Great Britain, collected in the 1960s, is:
- Eeeny, meeny, miney, mo.
- Put the baby on the po.
- When he's done,
- Wipe his bum.
- And tell his mother what he's done.
Lawsuit in the United States
Jocular use of a form of the rhyme by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, encouraging passengers to sit down so the plane could take off, led to a 2003 lawsuit charging the airline with racism. A United States District Court in Kansas City found Southwest not liable in January 2004, a decision that was upheld on appeal.
Two different versions of the rhyme were attested in court:
- Eeny meeny miny mo
- Please sit down it's time to go
- Eeny meeny miny mo
- Pick a seat, it's time to go
There are innumerable scenes in books, films, plays, cartoons and video games in which "Eeny meeny ..." or a variant is used by a character who is making a choice, either for serious or comic effect.
The phrase sometimes appears in other ways, including:
- "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo" was a popular song written in 1935 by Johnny Mercer and Matty Malneck.
- "Organ Grinder's Swing" was a hit in the 1930s for Ella Fitzgerald, who sang "eenie meenie miny moe, catch that monkey by the toe...".
- "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" was a hit single for LUV' released in the summer of 1979.
- The vinyl release of Radiohead's album OK Computer (1997) uses the words "eeny meeny miny moe" (rather than letter or numbers) on the labels of Sides A, B, C and D respectively.
- The Clipse mentioned "Eenie meenie miney mo" on the track titled Popular Demand (Popeye's) from the 2009 album Til the Casket Drops in reference to a quantity of women.
- The title of Chester Himes's novel If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) refers to the rhyme.
- In Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), the leading character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor.
- In the 1930s, animation producer Walter Lantz introduced the cartoon characters Meany, Miney and Mo (later Meeny, Miney and Mo). First appearing in Oswald Rabbit cartoons, then in their own series, the trio were semi-humanized chimpanzees; clothed, living in a funny animal world but rarely speaking understandable words. Later, in the comics, the trio spoke English with the inflections of the Three Stooges.
- The 1957 Bollywood hit Asha uses an Indian variant as the basis for the song "Eena Meena Deeka".
- The rhyme has been used by killers to choose victims in several films, including the 1994 films Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers; the 1997 film Funny Games and its 2008 remake; and the 2003 film Elephant.
- In the second episode of the four-part Doctor Who story The Celestial Toymaker, "The Hall of Dolls" (originally transmitted 9 April 1966), the King of Hearts recites the "nigger" version to choose among seven chairs – six of which are deadly. On BBC Audio’s CD release, the offending section has been obscured by placing part of Peter Purves's narration over the top.
- In the Dad's Army episode "Keep Young and Beautiful" (originally transmitted 13 October 1972), Frazer, Pike, Walker and Godfrey need a volunteer to go into the church hall office to have a look at Captain Mainwaring's new toupee. Pike recites the "nigger" version.
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 156-8.
- ↑ R. D. Abrahams and L. Rankin, Counting-out Rhymes: a Dictionary (University of Texas Press, 1980), p. 119.
- ↑ Nihar Ranjan Mishra, From Kamakhya, a socio-cultural study (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2004), p. 157.
- ↑ H. Bolton, H., The Counting-Out Rhymes of Children: Their Antiquity, Origin and Wide Distribution (1888, Kessinger Publishing, 2006), pp. 46 and 105.
- ↑ B. Fitzgibbon, Words and music, "Eeny, meeny, miny, mo" F. B. Haviland Publishing Co (1906).
- ↑ R. Kipling, R. T. Jones, G. Orwell, eds The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Editions, 1994), p. 771.
- ↑ I. Opie and P. Opie, Children's Games in Street and Playground (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 36.
- ↑ Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines.
- ↑ Zell Miller, They Heard Georgia Singing (Mercer University Press, 1996), p. 208.
- ↑ S. Nicholson, Ella Fitzgerald: a biography of the first lady of jazz (Da Capo Press, 1993), p. 80.
- ↑ D. Griffiths, OK Computer(Continuum, 2004), p. 32.