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  • Gareth Ellis

Nursery Rhymes are Nonsense

Nursery rhymes and children’s songs are weird.

I mean, have you ever properly listened to one? At the moment, it’s a common occurrence to hear the phrase ‘Alexa, play children’s music,’ to keep Rupert and Emi entertained.

But in listening to that every day for the last two months I’ve learned a lot of the lyrics to these songs and my god are some of them weird.

Take, for example, Old Mother Hubbard. It’s a charming song that starts out simple enough. Old woman has a dog, goes to feed it, realises she doesn’t have any, so poor dog doesn’t get any. I mean for starters you’d just go and buy the poor thing some food (as long as you remembered your mask.)

But then she goes to buy him all kinds of things to make up for it and he repays her by doing weird things. I mean, she goes to the tailors to buy him a coat and when she came back, he was riding a goat. I mean, where did the goat even come from?

I’ve been singing Oranges and Lemons for years, while only really knowing a couple of the lines – those being ‘oranges and lemons said the bells of St Clements,’ and ‘I do not know, said the great bells of Bow.’ However, if you listen to it there’s a story that runs through. You owe me five farthings, when will you pay me? When I get rich, when will that be? I don’t know, then someone gets their head cut off! I mean, talk about escalating quickly. Over less than half a penny in today’s money (minus inflation.)

Some of them are fairly self-explanatory. Rupert’s old classic, The Wheels on The Bus, is great for documenting what happens and what kids would be expected to hear on a bus. Although, he’s very inclusive. He seems to love the version where both Mummy AND Daddy are on the bus with baby.

In the song, Five Little Monkeys, it tells the story of a family of monkeys that lets their five children jump on the bed, counting down one by one as each of the monkeys falls of the bed, bumping their head. This is despite the fact that each time ‘Mummy phoned the doctor,’ he tells her ‘No more monkeys jumping on the bed.’ I mean, if that was human children, you’d stop everyone jumping after the first one fell, right? *Please see five little ducks as well, where the Mummy duck keeps letting her children out ‘over the hills and far away,’ despite the fact one less keeps coming back. I mean, this is definitely a call for social services!

Finally, and probably my favourite on this list, is the old lady who swallowed a fly. I mean, just have a drink of water, don’t swallow a spider. And then after that how is she swallowing a cat? Is she a snake? Madness. I mean, which doctor gave her that advice?

I know what people are going to say, that loads of these nursery rhymes and songs have a meaning, and yes, they probably do. But that doesn’t stop them from being weird! Riding a goat indeed.

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