Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Rudyard Kipling’

Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 18, 2017

At the start of the year, there was an uproar over The Walking Dead t-shirt carrying the slogan eeny, meeny, miney, moe on the front.  The balance of the children’s rhyme was implied and not stated, however fans of The Walking Dead know the character called Negan who spoke the rhyme on the series ends the rhyme with, “Catch a tiger by the toe.”

The t-shirt was pulled from store shelves by Primark after someone objected to the item being available for purchase on the basis that it was racist.  It wasn’t long before others on social media followed suit in support of the man’s claim.

SIDE NOTE 1:  At one time in the 20th century, Brazil nuts were marketed as n*gger toes.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Fans of The Walking Dead state that Negan is a ruthless sadistic killer who doesn’t discriminate against anyone.  Apparently he has not conscience and as such isn’t inclined to kill one person more than another.  If he can kill someone  – regardless of culture or race or gender or zombie status  — he does.

SIDE NOTE 3:  For interest’s sake, Primark has 177 stores in the UK, 37 in Ireland, varying numbers in many European countries, and 7 in the U.S.

In Salman Rushdie’s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” published in 1995, the main character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor.  No one filed a complaint with the publisher of the book, and no one complained to the media about any potential racist overtones to the four nicknames used in the book.

Interestingly enough, on March 23, 1990 the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strip dealt with the rhyme.  Hobbes was lying on the floor when Calvin started playing with Hobbes’ toes saying, “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe.”  Hobbes opened an eye to see what Calvin was up to as Calvin continued by saying “if he hollers..”   Hobbes got up and glared at Calvin. The last panel showed Calvin walking off, scuffed up, and asking, “Who writes these dumb things anyway?”

The rhyme was also found in Rudyard Kipling’s “A Counting-Out Song“, from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935.

When the scholarly journal Notes and Queries published the counting rhyme in their February 1855 edition, it read as follows with a brief explanation of how the rhyme was to be used.

The following are used in the United States for the selection of a tagger.

Eeny, meeny, moany, mite,
Butter, lather, boney, strike,
Hair, bit, frost, neck,
Harrico, barrico, we, wo, wack.

Meanwhile, in England, children were still singing:

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe
Catch a tinker by the toe.
If he hollers let me go,
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.

This same rhyme with its variations exists in other cultures as well.  In France children chant this instead.

Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Matricaire et matico,
Mets la main derrière ton dos.

TRANSLATION:
Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Chamomile and pepper plant,
Put your hand behind your back
.

The Dutch recite the same rhyme this way.

Iene miene mutte
Tien pond grutten
Tien pond kaas
Iene miene mutte
Is de baas.

TRANSLATION:
Eena meena
mutte

Ten pounds of groats
Ten pounds of cheese
Eena meena mutte
Is the boss.

The Cornish in England had an old shepherd’s count known as a shepherd’s score that goes like this.

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead – OUT.

Interestingly enough, American historian, chemist, and bibliographer of science Henry Carrington Bolton (29 January 1843- 19 November 1903) published a collection of children’s counting rhymes in 1888.  In his book, he included fifty variations of the counting rhyme which included many different specimens being caught by the toe or the tail or even by their thumb!  Some of those variations dated back to Britain and the early 1700s with implications that the rhyme was older than that.

So what is the origin of eeny meeny miney moe?  No one really seems to know for sure past everyone agreeing that it’s a counting rhyme.  It’s been around for a long time and it’s found in a great many cultures.

Is it racist?  It all depends on who or what you’re catching, and how you catch that person or thing.

Advertisements

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 8, 2011

The next time you hear someone is between the devil and the deep blue sea, express your condolences.  What it means is that the poor soul has found himself or herself having to choose between two equally unpleasant situations.

On June 23, 2009 the Birmingham Mail in England published as news story entitled, “Press Whistleblowers Deserve to Be Protected.”  It dealt with manner in which reporters have been treated in the past with regards to journalistic confidentiality and refusing to provide police with the sources for some of their stories.  The story began with this paragraph:

It is no secret that the provincial press is battling for survival, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, the devil being the economic slump and the deep blue sea the internet revolution.

Back in 1931, Cab Calloway recorded the Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen jazz standard, “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.”  It’s such a fun song that even George Harrison covered the song in 1988 showing how timeless the song truly is!

On November 24, 1950 the St. Petersburg Times published an article written by Marquis Childs entitled, “Democrats Are Caught Between The Devil And Deep Blue Sea.”  It dealt with rising prices, the consumer price index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and everything tied to it.  The journalist launched into the story with this opening paragraph:

The more the Democrats contemplate the months ahead, the more they realize the trap they are in.  That old phrase — between the devil and the deep blue sea — has rarely applied with such literalness as it does to the party in power.

The Devil and the Deep Sea” is the title of a short story by Rudyard Kipling and published in 1898, and reprinted in subsequent short story collections in the early 1900s.

On March 4, 1875 the Colonist newspaper in Nelson, New Zealand reprinted a news story from the Otago Daily Times entitled, “A New Doctrine Of Election.”  The story focused on Mr. Hare’s system of representation which was not well received by everyone.

This is to endanger the success of the party triumphing by splitting votes.  More seats were lots to Mr. Gladstone at the last election by this mistake than in any other way.  If any one thinks that we are exaggerating the possible difficulties of the situation, let him recall the elections he remembers best and he will find that the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea has been offered within his experience — not infrequently.

In nautical circles, the devil is a seam in the planking of a wooden ship on, or below, the waterline.  When sailors fell from a footrope, they would either land on deck which was known as the devil plank or in the water which would be, of course, the deep blue sea.  Understandably then, sailors talked about what little choice they had for their deaths when falling from a footrope, since their only choices were between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In Robert Monro’s  book “His Expedition With The Worthy Scots Regiment Called Mackeyes” published in 1637, the following passage is found:

I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea; for sometimes our owne cannon would light short, and grase over us, and so did the enemies also, — till I directed an officer to our owne batteries, acquainting them with our hurt, and desiring they should stell or plant their cannon higher.

Since it was used with such ease in 1637, one can safely assume it was an established phrase at the time and most likely dates back to the early 1600s, if not farther.  Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this phrase.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hell Bent For Leather

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 13, 2011

Such an odd phrase that paints such a vivid picture, the phrase “hell-bent for leather” has certainly established itself as a pack-a-punch expression.  The St. Petersburg Times in Florida reported on President Kennedy‘s visit to the Berlin Wall in a news article dated June 26, 1963.

There is no place which makes a better platform for hell-bent-for-leather speeches than the ground adjacent to the Berlin wall.  Here the passions of the West Berliners are likely to ignite the most impassive speaker.  Here it is routine to open old wounds, wave the flag, and goad the Russian Bear.

Thirty years earlier, on June 7, 1933 the Milwaukee Journal ran a news article on the rivalry between Max Schmeling and Max Baer and how it affected boxing.

“By gracious, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Max pop that Baer out of there in the first heat,” Mr. Carney said over a glass of beer.  “No sir, I wouldn’t.  You know, that boy’s a torment on those fellows who come running in.  Look at his record: three of the fellows he nailed in the first round were of the type that comes tearing in, hell-bent for leather.  Joe Monte was the first one.  Monte came out like a cyclone and a minute later — boof!  He was on the floor.”

Rudyard Kipling in his book The Story of the Gadsbys published in 1888 contains this phrase:

Gaddy, take this chit to Bingle, and ride hell-for-leather. It’ll do you good.

That being said, Hell bent is the operative phrase in the saying as the saying has been Hell bent for election, Hell bent for Sunday, Hell bent for breakfast and Hell bent for Georgia over the years.  Hell bent for election dates back to the State of Maine gubernatorial race of 1840 and Hell bent dates back to 1835 as shown by a passage on page 12 of the book “The Knickerbocker: New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 6” where it comments on a large encampment of savages Hell bent on carnage.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »