Saturday, 7 July 2012

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall but how do we know he was an egg?

Humpty Dumpty cake, 1985, by our mum. Photo probably by our dad. Birthday, Caroline's.

Did you ever really think very long about nursery rhymes? I don't think I ever did until I became a parent. Well maybe I did but now that I am a mum I find myself looking at some of the rhymes and riddles from a slightly different angle compared to when I was a child.

In the late '70s and early '80s our dad would set up a cassette recorder to tape us reading, singing or talking, often with the intention of mailing the tape to interstate grandparents. He did own a Super 8 camera but that didn't have sound recording capabilites and it limited any recording to a couple of minutes only. A cassette recorder could give us a healthy 30 or 45 minutes recording time... and then you could turn the tape over and get that amount again! These recordings are still around and I can be heard with my siblings cracking ourselves up singing our own versions of 'Old King Cole', 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' and more. 'Old King Cole was a merry old soul and a merry old soul was he. He called for his... (wait for it) ... plate! ... (I know, hilarious right!?)... and he called for his... cup! ... (comedy gold!)... and he... ' you get the idea. Once we got a little bit older, the good ol' toilet talk would have taken over I'm certain. Fart jokes never fail to amuse my siblings and me... well, at least me... and frustrate my father to no end. I don't have evidence that we altered any nursery rhymes with farts but there are plenty of fart noises randomly made on at least one of these tapes. Hilarious. You had to be there?

So anyway, now I am supposedly a grown-up I rack my brain trying to remember the nursery rhymes for my son and as I recite them to him I wonder things. I wonder what I am teaching him with these rhymes. What did I learn from these riddles when I was a kid? What is a 'cock horse'?

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.

I was a bit hesitant to do an internet search for 'cock horse', worried about what I might find but of course wikipedia provides some sort of answer. I should have known... at least part of it. Wikipedia suggests that ' "cock horse" can mean a high-spirited horse, and the additional horse to assist pulling a cart or carriage up a hill. From the mid-sixteenth century it also meant a pretend hobby horse or an adult's knee.'  But you all knew that already didn't you?

Now that the 'cock horse' mystery was solved, at least to my satisfaction, I wondered, how do we know Humpty Dumpty was an egg?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Again, wikipedia suggests some answers. Basically, it seems that we can't be sure he was an egg but, amongst other theories, it is thought that rather than just being a nursery rhyme, the rhyme was more of a riddle with the answer being, as we all now assume,  'Humpty Dumpty was an egg'. Other thoughts are more military in flavour with the idea of Humpty Dumpty being a tank or cannon sitting on a wall protecting a castle. I think I'll stick with the egg theory myself.

Whether or not everyone agrees that wikipedia is a completely valid source for answers and information, I now feel less puzzled about these extremely pressing issues (ha!). Without the internet and wikipedia, how am I going to be able to answer all the questions my offspring will throw at me out of left field?


  1. Apparently "Ring a rosie" is about tuberculosis. Although, that piece of information comes from my brain/memory so let's face it, it could be wrong...

    Also, shout out to Mum for making me an awesome Humpty cake for my 3rd birthday!

  2. And how would you explain TB to a toddler? Hmmm. Food for thought.

  3. Was it tuberculosis or the black plague?