Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sociology of skipping songs

As a child I loved skipping. Classic examples of traditional rhymes that get passed down and altered over generations, skipping songs and chants hooked my imagination.

I've often wondered where they came from originally. One English friend of my mother's generation skipped to some of the same songs I did, with minor variations. That's one clue.

This popular classic was used in the sixties; there were no tinkers.

Mississippi lives by the shore;
She has children 2 and 4.
The oldest one is twenty-four so who shall she marry?
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor?
Rich man, poor man, beggar, thief?
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?
Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

We skipped slowly to the first four lines. Then the pace accelerated to "pepper." Only the most nimble footed could avoid tripping long enough to marry an Indian chief or Mountie.

This was a common feature of these interactive songs. At the moment you tripped up, you got some prediction about your grown-up self. Children in unsupervised play seem to spontaneously come up with such things.

The world of childhood changes with the generations. Do children still skip and chant these traditional rhymes? Do children in other countries sing similar ones? I'd love to know.

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