Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’

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.

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