Jesus Christ Superstar and Popular Songs of the 16th century

Here's an interesting one submitted by a reader - a parody to the title song from Jesus Christ: Superstar. The first couple of lines are easy enough to sing to the tune, but after a while I imagine that there's a tune change?  I suspect there's a line missing here, and I'd added it into parenthesis

 The reader learned in in 1980 from a cousin who lived in Bakersfield, CA:

Jesus Christ: Superstar
streaking down the hill on a Yamaha
The cops were there
they didn't care
they wore bulletproof underwear
if I die, (bury me)
hang my balls on a cherry tree
if they fall
catch them all
send them all to juvenile hall 
if the judge
says they smell
tell them that he can go to hell

What's interesting here to me is how many lines from other playground songs show up here; I'm reminded of the Bart Simpson line about how Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ. This is a rhyme where Jesus brings together lines from all sorts of songs.

First of all, we've got the "streaking down the hill in a yamaha" bit, which reminds me of an occasionally-heard rhyme (traced back to about the 60s and appearing on of Bruce Sprinsteen's spiral-bound notebooks from when he was writing Darkness on the Edge of Town):

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord
he is tearing down the highway in a black and yellow Ford

Then there's the old: "When I die, bury me / hang my balls on a cherry tree."  This one comes up in many rhymes, perhaps most commonly in Abe Lincoln Was a Good Old Man.  This connects it to much older rhymes, including an old folk/blues song known as "When I Die," which is included in a couple of early 20th century collections of such:

The Journal of American Folklore collected one like this from "mountain whites" in Tennessee in 1907:

When I die, bury me a tall
soak my body in alcohol
When I die, bury me deep
put a quart of liquor at my head and my feet

The same source traced another version to "Mississippi negroes" in 1908:

When I die, don't bury my at all
preserve my bones in alcohol

Another version collected from a similar source ("Mississippi negroes") around the same time went:

When I die, bury me deep
tell the gamblers I've gone to sleep
put a pair of bones in my right hand
and i'll throw seven in the promised land.

A similar version collected in Alabama in 1915 was the same as the above, with "bottle of booze at my feet" substituting for the second line.

You see variations on this in lots of blues songs, "Dying Crapshooter's Blues" by Blind Willie McTell comes right to mind (and I think he himself said he stole from all sorts of sources to make that song, which, itself, was similar to "St. James Infirmary Blues," which itself grew out of even older songs like "The Unfortunate Rake," "Streets of Laredo," etc).  So what we've got here is basically a progression of a 16th century British ballad growing into a playground rhyme sung to the tune of Andrew Lloyd Weber.

There are entire books about how these particular songs grow into each other, including a couple at the right:

Now, it's easy to make the inference here, based on the above examples, that despite the dates, the "negro" version came first, as "bury me a tall" is clearly a corruption of "don't bury me at all." However, figuring out which came first, and who's appropriating from who, is just about impossible in these things. Those 19th/20th century folk and blues songs are just about the perfect example of a pure hybrid, as African rhythms mixed with European melodies. Since Pete Seeger died the other day, it seems like as good as time as any to mention that in 2000 I interviewed him over the phone on a radio show (my co-host, who'd been active in the folk world for ages, had his home phone number), and he said something about how the upside of our country's abominable racial history is that it gave us this hybrid music: "Sometimes the call it rock, sometimes they call it folk, or gospel, or blues, or jazz...."

Anyway...anyone else know this one?

The Smelliest Fart in History

Here's a reader submission first heard in Rowland Heights, CA in 1981. Sung to the tune of "Snoopy vs the Red Baron" by the Royal Guardsmen:

10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more
(name here) cut a fart in the grocery store
80 men died when they tried to flee
the smelliest fart in history.

I love this one! Did you know one like it?

Fidel Castro Was His Name We Hear

Here's a reader submission of a song to the tune of "Casey Jones" (well, actually to the tune of the parody of Casey Jones that was used in a Good 'n' Plenty commercial). Debra, who submitted it, knew it in the late 1950s-early 1960s in the Bronx. It apparently wasn't known all over New York City, but was "practically an anthem" on Hull Avenue. "It's incredibly insensitive and homophobic," she says, "but we thought it was the height of sophisticated humor back then (when we were ten):"

Once upon a time there was a Cuban queer
Fidel Castro was his name we hear
He had a country and he sure had fun
He used guns and ammunition to make his people run
Castro says, "Love Nikita Khruschev"
Castro says, "Wish he'd go to hell"
Castro says, "Love Nikita Khruschev,
Don't know any other commie that I like so well."

For the record, I asked Debra if she or her friends had any idea what "queer" meant at the time. "It was a schoolyard slur," she says. "The boys might have had a vague idea ('born in New York' didn't necessarily translate to 'worldly wise sophisticate' in those days), (but) I didn't know what the F word meant until I was nearly fourteen, and even then, the whole thing was couched in mystery. Ah, them were the days - maybe." 

Another version found on a message board, said to have been made up in Brooklyn in 1960, with minor variations:

Once upon a time there was a Cuban queer
Fidel Castro was his name, we hear.
He had an island
And he sure had fun:
He used bullets and machine guns to
make the people run!
Fidel says:
Love Nikita Khruschev!
Fidel says:
Love that bald-headed Russian!!
Don't know any other commie
that I love so well!

This seems to be well remembered as a Bronx/Brooklyn sort of rhyme. My basic read on it is that, q-word aside, it's probably a bit too sophisticated to have been written by kids initially; this strikes me as one that probably got started in the military or ROTC and filtered down. Though there's certainly some homophobia implied in thinking of "queer" as an appropriate slur, I don't really think homophobia was the point so much as finding a slur or any sort that could rhyme with "engineer" in the original song. It could have just as easily been something racial, or even just some synonym for something as harmless as "slob" or "loser" or even "turkey" if one of those words had rhymed as well.  Here's the commercial that inspired the song:

Suicide, Graveyard and Swamp Water

What did you call the drink you created by mixing all the kinds of pop at the fountain drink station together?

There weren't many restaurants in my town with a self-service drink station, if I remember right. Subway was about it. But when we mixed them together, we usually the drink "Suicide." This would have been central Iowa in the 90s. I heard the same in suburban Atlanta a few years later.

I generally hear "suicide" here in Chicago (an informal survey taken at Burger King showed 100% of participants going with "suicide.")  However, a friend who grew up in southern Illinois said it went by "suicide" occasionally there, but was more commonly known as "swamp water." I've also heard tell of it being called "graveyard" now and then.

My wife called it a "tornado" in Cleveland in the 80s and 90s.
My grandmother told me that when they mixed all the sodas together in Iowa in the 1940s, they called it "hoopee water." I always imagine the word being spelled as "whoopy" or "whoopee," but those are pronouncd differently. I'm sure there ought to be a W there, but it's not pronounced so much as implied. Not silent, implied. Anyway --- hoopee water.

Early soda fountain publications referred to a similar thing where soda jerks would mix all the leftover bits of soda into a drink they called a "Don't Care." Calling random syrup mixes "don't care syrup" seems to have been universal among soda jerks in the first decade or so of the 20th century, though by the 1930s, when soda jerk lingo was being studied by linguists, "Suicide" and "Graveyard" were both in use in various parts of the country.

What did YOU call it? Be sure to say where and when.

A Million Tickets, Tootsie Pop Wrappers, and Other Collections

Here's a long entry from the e-book, which I felt like posting after finding an interesting article from 1897 in the Chicago Tribune archives. It seems that that year, there were lots and lots of girls running around the west side coming up to men and saying "Please, sir, won't you bow to me?" If the guy bowed, they'd put a mark on a card they carried. When they reached 100, they would bury it it some secret place, and, if they waited long enough, it would turn into a pot of silver and gold. This seemed to be quite popular among the 12-and-under set; an older girl had told them it was true, and they believed it.

Here's the original entry from the book:

The Million Tickets (and other pointless collections)

In the Opies’ Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, there is a fascinating section on the widespread belief that some eccentric millionaire had offered a big prize to whoever could collect a million used bus tickets (which littered the ground of the UK at the time). By the 1950s, generations of Britons remembered collecting tickets in hopes of getting to a million. Some believed that the number on the tickets had to end in a 7, or that, even if you didn’t get to a millions, the bus company would pay out big time for a ticket with a certain combination of numbers.
Similar pursuits were certainly going on in my day, and it’s easy to connect these stories to modern e-mail chain letters stating that Bill Gates is going to pay off everyone who sends an email along, for some reason.  While bus tickets were pretty well unknown to us when I was a kid, I recall two things in particular:
One was the “Sixty Years with Mickey” game celebrating the 60th anniversary of Mickey Mouse. Candy bars came with a letter printed inside — M-I-C-K-E or Y. Rumor went around that anyone who got all six of those would win a BIG prize. Y was the hard one to get — when I got one and my neighbor’s mom threw it out, I was furious. We here at the staff have yet to find a definitive source on what the actual rules of the game were, though I imagine that getting all six letters was merely step one.
The other was the phenomenon of getting a star on a Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper. What getting one of those meant varied depending on who you ask — one friend told me it meant three months of good luck. Another was quite sure that a wrapper with a star on it could be exchanged at any store for a full bag of Tootsie Roll Pops (possibly the same kid who told me that if you reached a certain score on Pitfall, your Atari would print out a certificate for a free frozen pizza from the grocery store). Another thought a star could be exchanged for fifty bucks.
The Tootsie Roll Pop mystery sure as heck didn’t start with us — this is one of those myths that everyone seems to know some version of. But the more common (and reasonable) version seems to be that kids thought a wrapper with a star could be mailed in for a free Tootsie Pop (which, one would think, would cost less than the postage to buy). The good folks down at the Tootsie Pop offices on South Cicero Avenue say they’ve been turning down requests for free lollipops that come with star wrappers since the 1930s. Since 1982, they’ve sent back a letter saying that the TRUE story is that if you get a star, it means that your lollipop was personally inspected by the Grand Indian Chief for the chewy candy center (dude better not have licked it; I don’t want chief germs on MY Tootsie Pop. Or owl ones, for that matter).
“Since we enjoy them so much,” the letter says, “aren’t we all kind of lucky that the chief still cares?”
I’m sure the kids who get a copy of the letter instead of free candy feel lucky, all right. REEALLLLY lucky.
In any case, some insist that a couple of local stores DID exchange free suckers for stars, but no one seems to be able to get a definitive source on this.
And believing that there was some hidden reward for finding junk goes back quite a while — the Opies found a thing on it from an 1883 letter to Notes and Queries stating that a lot of young people were in the habit of collecting used postage stamps. No one could give a good reason for it, but some believed that the post office would pay out a reward to anyone who got a million.
Others, the letter said, believed that stamps needed to be collected in order to get someone treatment in a hospital, which neatly connects it to more modern legends about pop can tabs being redeemable for time on dialysis machines (or some variation on that). Numerous schools have collected pop can tabs for things like this, even though it’s basically a myth. No one ever seems to know where the pop tabs go.  In theory, one could sell them for scrap and use the money for health care, but it would take a whole heck of a lot of them to earn any real money.
A 1905 issue of The Spectator also speculated on the origins of the “million stamps” legend, saying that it was a legend that it seemed “almost uncharitable to expose.” At the time, a rumor was going around that a million stamps would get someone into some charitable institution or another. The magazine stated that everyone had, at one time or another, come upon a guy tying up postage stamps into lots of a hundred and saying, “Hullo! What a lot of stamps. How many are in that box?” To which the reply is “nearly fifty-thousand…to help get a person into the hospital. I’m trying to get to a million. You might give me that one off that letter you had on Tuesday, by the way.”
Back in 1893, a London magazine called Today also ran a story on the idea of a million used stamps getting someone into a hospital or asylum — and noted that stamp dealers would pay about four shillings for a hundred thousand used ones. As such, a million would have been worth two pounds (pretty good money in 1893, but not enough that you could retire or anything). The author related, though, that he had once come upon a lady who was about to send a hundred thousand stamps in to a dealer and, knowing he was a collector, let her look through them first. He found about a hundred collectable ones for which he paid her four shillings (and for which he would have paid about a pound — twenty shillings — to buy from a dealer), which gives one a pretty good idea of why dealers would have made such an offer for a hundred thousand used ones.
Punch, an old humor magazine, was ready with a smart aleck response to the legend that a million could be exchanged for admission to an asylum: that if you did, in fact, go through the necessary efforts to get a million used postage stamps, any asylum would be happy to take you “without having to pass the entrance examination.” 
No one, though, could say what any hospital would ant a million postage stamps for. 
Variations on legends like this abound. The issue of The Spectator quoted above went on to say that every schoolboy knew that on one day in 1864, the mint got gold and copper mixed up and made a lot of solid gold pennies, making 1864 coins especially good finds.
I remember that the custom in my elementary school was turning in Campbell’s Soup labels (and, in some cases, pickle jar lids) on the belief that Campbell’s was providing school supplies for schools that turned enough of them in. I’ve heard a lot of stories about things like this turning out to be urban legends, but the “Labels for Education” seems to be legit.
What surprised the Opies (and us) the most was that the postage stamp story appeared to have a grain of truth behind it — in 1850, an article appeared in the usually reliable London Illustrated News stating that a certain young woman was going to be placed in a convent by her father if she didn’t collect a million used postage stamps, prompting people from all over England to send her MASSIVE amounts of used stamps — one particular mailing contained 240,000! 
Urban legends about similar things still come up, and sometimes facts get mixed up with reality. In the late 1980s, a boy named Craig Shergold was diagnosed with brain cancer and decided to try to break the world record for receiving the most birthday cards. He received millions (including a couple of dozen, I believe, from my second grade class). It generated enough publicity that a benefactor arranged for him to have the necessary surgery, and Craig is now a healthy adult. But people who heard the story, without noting the time frame, are apparently still sending cards to Craig (who has them recycled). His requests that people stop sending him cards don’t seem to circulate as well as the stories and legends.
If we were him, we’d probably check the cards to make sure no one included cash first, but he’s probably been down that road enough by now.
What went around like this in YOUR town?

Gene, Gene, Made a Machine

If you’ve heard this rhyme in the last fifty years, you probably heard it as something like this:

Gene, gene, made a machine
Joe, Joe, made it go
Frank, Frank, turned the crank
Art, Art, let a fart
blew the whole damned thing apart!
It’s been fairly common in roughly this form since at least the early 1960s, but it’s a variation on an older one:

Gene, Gene, made a machine
Joe, Joe, made it go
Frank, Frank, turned the crank
His mother came and gave him a spank
Sent him over the river bank
That one was published — in The Clinique: a monthly abstract of the clinics and of the proceedings of the Clinical Society of the Hahnemann Hospital of Chicago of all places - in 1923. The last three lines were listed as a common taunt to be leveled at boys named Frank in a book of “New England Sayings” from 1894.
The “original” kept showing up in print through the 1970s, but some time in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the crew seems to have ditch Frank’s spank-happy mother and replaced her with Art, who brought even more trouble. Poor guys.

The above is a new entry written for the new ebook:


Stepping on a Crack

Here’s one that everyone knew to chant while walking down the sidewalk:

Step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back.

This has been recorded in print since at least the late 19th century, often with a few additions:

Step on a line, break your mother’s spine
Step on a hole, break your mother’s sugar bowl
Step on a nail, you’ll put your dad in jail

So the thing to step on here is probably a bowl. Everything else will kill people or, at least, uproot your life considerably. One can survive the loss of a sugar bowl. Health nuts will even say that you’ll benefit from it.
One person I knew added another:

Giggle while you pee, you’ll turn into an old dead tree.

Stepping on cracks has long been subject to superstition. In addition to the danger of breaking your mother’s back, a 1905 book, Superstition and Education, lists several other grim superstitions: that if you step on a crack, you will have bad luck, or that you will not get a surprise at home that you otherwise would.
Many claim that the original rhyme was “step on a crack and your mother will turn black,” and that the superstition went that stepping on a crack meant that you’d have a black baby. Indeed, Iona Opie noted that that one was fairly common in parts of the UK in the 1950s, but there’s no real reason to think it’s the original, not just another variation that came and went. At the same time, kids were saying that if you stepped on a crack, you’d be chased by bears. This idea was invented by A.A. Milne in his poem “Lines and Squares,” but, from Opie’s description, was a more widespread superstition than the racial one.  You have to watch out when people tell you the "original meanings" of things - like the supposed "secret origins" or nursery rhymes, they're seldom true. And this is coming from the blog that connects songs about pooping in your overalls back to songs about making violins out of dead bodies.
These are all, in any case, some of those superstitions that no one really believes. While the good luck brought from a penny can be debatable, most kids figure out right away that people who step on cracks in the sidewalk don’t come home to dead mothers and don’t get chased by bears (at least not very often).

By the way - our ebook, THE SMART ALECK'S GUIDE to NAUGHTY PLAYGROUND SONGS AND CHILDREN'S FOLKLORE, will be out next week, featuring new, revised, and expanded articles. Playground Jungle is being fully incorporated into the Smart Aleck's Guide family!


With Nothing On At All

Hi, folks! We here at the Smart Aleck's Guide HQ are busily preparing for an ebook based on this site, and wanted to share a recent addition:

As widespread as parodies of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" have become, it would be a shame if there were no version about underpants. One common version at least comes close:

I wear my pink pajamas in the summer when it’s hot
I where my flannel nighties in the winter when it’s not
and sometimes in the springtime and often in the fall
I jump into my little bed with nothing on at all
Glory, glory hallelujah
glory, glory what’s it to ya?
Balmy breezes blowing through ya
with nothing on at all!

This is often printed in collections of camp songs alongside “God Bless My Underwear,” which I suppose you could say is a sort of companion piece.

This is another that’s older than people think.  It was widespread by the 1930s (sometimes in a third person version, “She wears her pink pajamas,” and with a “woolen” nightie instead a flannel one. 

But wasn’t a new song then, either;  in 1916 it was published in a book of “Harvard songs.” It appears in that book as the second verse of a “John Brown’s body” parody called “The Clam Digger.” The first verse is rather dumb, and has nothing to do with sleeping in the nude, then, in verse 2, it becomes an excuse for a bunch of Harvard guys to sing about wearing pink pajamas and flannel nighties:

I know a man who went digging for some clam (x3)
and he didn’t catch a bally bally clam.
Glory, glory to the clam digger (x3)
for he never caught a bally bally clam!
I put on my pink pajamas in the summer when it’s hot
I put on my flannel nightie in the winter when it’s not
and sometimes in the springtime by more often in the fall
I just right into between the sheets with nothing on at all
Glory, glory for the spring time (x3)
when I just right in between the sheets with nothing on at all! 

(note from the smart aleck staff: shouldn’t it be glory glory for the autumn? So much for Harvard intellectuals!)

The book also includes a parody called “Glory for the Crimson” with which we need not bother, except to note that 1916 era Harvard men had quite a number of songs set to this tune. Newspaper accounts indicate that “With Nothing On At All” wasn’t original to Harvard, either - it had been going around awhile by the time it hit Harvard.

The Smart Aleck's Guide to Naughty Playground Songs and Children's Folklore will be available as an ebook very soon! It'll feature a lot of the research we've done from this site, expanded and revised, with an active table of contents, internal links for easy navigation, and other fancy stuff! 

"Bike" and other slang terms for genitals

When I was in fourth grade, a rumor went around that "bike" was a French word for "penis." This probably came from the "bike cup" that one buys in sporting goods stores. For several months, saying someone "just got a new bike" or telling them to "grab your bike" could get a laugh out of any of us. Was this just a local thing?

I know of several other things like this, in which a random word is said to be French (or simply code) for something sexual - the famous example all over the Des Moines Metro Area was that "shut up" meant "meet me in bed in five minutes." This was hilarious to fifth graders and groan-inducing to middle schoolers.

Butt Naked vs Buck Naked

Which version did you say? We favored "butt naked," but were aware of "buck naked."

Historically, "buck naked" emerged circa the 1920s (earliest print reference I could find was 1928), and "butt naked" came a bit later. There's a print reference to "bare-butt naked" dated 1959, and "butt naked" began to appear in print frequently in the 1960s and 70s. I always sort of assumed "butt naked" was a corruption of "buck naked," but I suppose it could always be the other way around. What "buck" meant is a bit of a mystery to me, unless it's a major corruption of the earlier "stark naked."

A Soldier I Shall Be

A few years ago I played a gig in a bar that was the last stop on a "hash." Hashing was a new phenomenon to me - the best description I've heard is "a running club with a drinking problem...or maybe a drinking club with a running problem." These guys and girls run around, drink heavily, then convent to a bar to sing "hash hymns," most of which are extremely neughty versions of old playground songs. It was so much like being at summer camp that I could almost smell the eggseronious.

One hymn was:

A sol, a sol, a soldier I shall be
two pis, two pis, two pistols on me knee
for count, for count, for country and glory
a sol, a sol, a soldier I shall be.

Say it out loud and you'll get a good impression of what's dirty about it, if you can't tell by looking.

I've since seen several variations online. Many subsitute "for cu, fo cu, for curiosity" for the third line (which works better if sung with a British accent than it does with an American one).

Another whole verse I've seen goes:

Harass, harass, harass them in the dark
each hit, each hit, each hit will find its mark."

I haven't found this in print anywhere yet. My guess would be that it started in the military and filtered its way down to the playground, as often happens. What versions did you know?

Snake Bites and Indian Burns

Kids at my school weren't THAT bad - I never saw anyone really badly beaten up. About the worst of it was that we all got the occasional "snake bite." This was accomplished by gripping someone's arm with both hands twisting both ways at the same time (ie, twisting one wrist forwards and one wrist backwards.) It could be moderately painful.

As of the 1950s, Peter and Iona Opie listed this particular torture as a "a Chinese Burn" or "Chinese Twist," and noted that in the U.S. it was known as an "Indian burn" or "Indian torture." My memory of an "Indian Burn" was taking a small piece of yarn, stretched taught, and rubbing it rapidly back and forth across someone's bare arm as though trying to start a fire.

The same torture goes by various names around the world, such as "Indian sunburn" (Canada) and "Policeman's glove" (Bulgaria).

What did you call it?

Salute the king...

Several versions of this:

Salute the King (military salute)
Salute the queen (naval salute)
Salute the German submarine (thumb your nose)

A close variation
Salute the captain of the ship
sorry, sir, my finger slipped

Both of these go back to at least the 1940s, and could go back to about World War I.

In the 1970s in the States, it had morped to:
Salute the king
salute the queen
touch the dirty submarine
(the third line here ended with touching one's butt).

Meanwhile, in the 70s, Iona Opie picked up this variation, which is said to go back to at least the 1950s:

I'm a girl guide dressed in blue
these are the duties I must do
salute to the captain
curtsey to the queen
show my knickers to the football team

Opie notes that on the 3rd, 4th and 5th lines, one saluted, curtseyed, and stood on one's head, respectively (judging by the pictures in The Singing Game, girls still wore dresses almost exclusively in the UK at the time, making standing on one's head slightly risque). I have to wonder if this made it to the states as a rhyme about cheerleaders - it would have been easy enough to Americanize. There are American versions that end with "turn my back on the boy in green."

Similar to this is one that went around in the 1940s:

This is how the king salutes (salute)
This is how Hitler salutes (raise arm)
this is how a dog salutes! (lift leg)

These went around in many, many variations, sometimes changing names to include modern and topical references. Put yours in the comments!

See also: Charlie Chaplin went to France


It's one of the first taunts I learned - and the one that taught me the "taunt rhythm," the meter and tones that make any song a taunt.

_____ and _____, sittin' in a tree
First comes love, then comes marriage
then comes ____ with a baby carriage

The truly inspired would add on the following:

Sucking his thumb, pooping his pants
Trying to do the boogie dance
and that's not all, that's not all
he's also drinking alcohol!"

Other versions I heard over the years changed the pronouns around - it was usually one of the people from the first section drinking the alcohol, not the baby.

This seems to be one of the rhymes that EVERYONE knows (I understand there's even a Spanish version) - I've even seen it listed as a good rhyme for teaching Christian children in a home school as an introduction to sexuality (since it sets up the "normal" sequence of events: first comes love, then come marriage, then comes the baby).

Figuring out just how old it is is tricky - it didn't start appearing in print much until the 1970s, though by then it was already referred to as an "old" rhyme. A version including the second verse appeared in Texas Monthly (swapping "wetting" for "pooping" and "hula" for "boogie") in 1976, but in the context it seems clear that it was already considered old. A collection called Glimpses of Appalachian Folklore" lists it as a jump-rope rhyme recorded in Maine in 1961, and Western Folklore listed it as being common in California by the end of the 1960s.

What versions did you know? How old is this thing, anyway?

Tarzan, the Monkey Man

Here's one that was well known at my school:

Tarzan, the monkey man
got no brains, but he's got a tan

A more common version seems to have been:

Tarzan, the monkey man
swinging on a rubber band.

The Delaware Folklore Archives recorded this from a sixth grader in 1973.

Another Tarzan bit recorded by the Knapps in Indiana in the 1970s went:

Tarzan swings, Tarzan falls
Tarzan lands right on his balls

Jasan, a reader, sent in this variation he heard in Maryland in the early 1980s:
Tarzan swing, tarzan fall
Tarzan bust his titty ball
what color was his blood?
(The person that the caller pointed to on the word blood had to pick a color. It was usually red, but sometimes a smart person would pick a color that had the right number of letters for the desired result.)
R-E-D spells the word red and you are not it.

(Note: cheating at counting-out games has been recorded about as long as counting-out games)

Josepha Sherman recorded a couple of varitions:

Tarzen, the monkey man
swinging on a rubber band
pop goes the rubber band, down goes the monkey man

(Bedford, NY, early 1960s)

I can't help but guess that variations probably go back to around the 1930s, when the Tarzan movies were at the peak of popularity, though it wasn't recorded until the 60s or 70s.

Another one that Simon J. Bronner recorded, dated to the late 60s or early 70s, which was also known to Jason in the early 80s, went:

Tarzan, Tarzan, through the air
Tarzan lost his underwear
Tarzan say "me don't care
Jane will make me another pair
Jane, Jane through the air
Jane lost her underwear
Jane say "me don't care
Boy make me another pair"
Boy, Boy, through the air
Boy lost his underwear
Boy say "me don't care
Cheetah make me another pair"
Cheetah Cheetah through the air
Cheetah lost his underwear
Cheetah say "Me don't care
Me don't wear no underwear!"

What versions did you know?

Michael Jackson and the Pledge of Allegiance

Here's a reader submission that the contributor first heard in 1984 in Placentia, CA. It would probably get kids in a lot more trouble now than it did back then.

I pledge allegiance to the flag,
Michael Jackson is a fag.
Pepsi Cola burnt him up,
now he's drinking 7-UP.

The rhyme circulated a lot, and appeared in at least three scholarly works on children's folklore in the mid-late 80s, and there's a 1994 book about black identity in popular culture  which identifies it as a jump rope rhyme. When I heard it (circa the spring of 1992 in Des Moines), there were two more lines:

7-UP made him pee,
now he's drinking Pepsi Free

I'm not sure this one survives among today's kids. It seems like an obvious enough move to turn "Michael Jackson" into, say, "Justin Bieber," but maybe a guy really does have to be doing soda commercials for this one to work.  Then again, by the time it had filtered to my fifth grade, the story about him being burned while filming a Pepsi commercial had faded away; I didn't make the connection at the time, personally. 

It MAY have been that the "burnt up" line had to stop seeming topical before kids felt like they could add more verses about other calamities that rhymed with soft drinks, but I doubt it. I can imagine that some schools stretched this one into many more verses (I hate to say it, but I'd be shocked if no one, anywhere, added a line about him drinking Sprite because 7-Up made him white). 

Without wishing to endorse the first (easily changeable) couple of lines, here are a few off the top of my head:

Pepsi free made him choke
now he's drinking diet coke
diet coke made him spew
now he's drinking mountain dew
mountain dew made him hurt
now he's drinking cans of squirt

Easy. Change the first lines to some other Playground rhyme staple ("Michael jackson went to France / to teach the ladies how to dance" works just fine), and then you can go on for days.

Incidentally, I don't think Michael Jackson actually drank any of those drinks. 

Packing Snow vs Building Snow vs.....

It is widely known that Eskimoes have some incredibly large number of words for "snow," with different terms for all the many types of snow one is likely to encounter when living as an Eskimo.

In Iowa in the 80s, we kids knew only two kinds: the powdery kind that wasn't really good for much, and the wetter, heavier kind that could be used for building snowmen, snowballs, or (in theory) a snow fort. The former we simply called "snow." The latter was known as "building snow" when I was younger, and "packing snow" when I got older.

When I moved to Atlanta, kids didn't seem to have a term for "packing snow," since they only encountered about one day every four years. I remember hearing people refer to having seen "the perfect kind of snow for building stuff," but that's about it.

A quick look around on google books shows that the term "packing snow" is fairly well known, but it doesn't come up in print all that often. I'm not sure there's an "official" term for good building snow.

What do YOU call it?

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Burning of the School (updated)

This is widely reported to be the most wide-spread of all playground songs. Personally, though, I never heard it as a kid.

The tune "Battle Hymn of the Republic" is, like most folk songs, essentially a parody itself, a rewrite of the marching song "John Brown's Body Lies a Mouldering in the Grave," which, after nearly 150 years, is still the catchiest song ever written about mouldering, and which, itself, was written to the tune of another song.

There's no official version of "The Burning of the School" - the first two lines usually go:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
we have tortured all the teachers we have broken every rule
we hung the secretary and we'll drown the principal
our truth is marching on!

The third line varies, but common versions are:

We have plans to hang the principal tomorrow after school
we cheated (principal's name) in a dirty game of pool

The fourth line, too, has a million variations, everything from "our truth is marching on" to "us brats are marching on."

The chorus is sometimes simply "glory glory hallelujah," but many change it to one of a hundred variations on:

Glory, glory hallelujah
teacher hit me with a ruler
I bopped her on the bean
with a rotten tangerine
and she ain't gonna teach no more

This part I did hear - the version I knew ended with "her brains came marching out," and I learned it from my mother, who would have learned it in the 1960s. The first two lines were recorded in England in the 1950s.

* - the last line of this version connects it to the ww2 era soldiers' parody Blood on the Risers.

Of course, these are just a few. Kay Shapero collected SEVERAL variations, particularly to the "I bopped her on the bean" line:

Hid behind the door with a loaded .44
Met her at the bank with a German army tank
Met her in the tub with a German navy sub
Met her in the attic with a loaded automatic
Hit her in the seater with a .50 millimeter
I shot her in the butt with a rotten coconut
I shot her in the hand with a loaded rubber band
I met her at the door with a hungry dinosaur
Teacher came in late so we sent her to Kuwait

The last line of the chorus also mutates:

-And my Teacher don't teach any more!
-And my Teacher ain't a Teacher any more!
-And we ain't seen the ol' bitch since!
-The school is burning down!
-Our troops are marching on!
-As we go marching on!

When i started this site, I had assumed that there must be more verses of this song floating around someplace, but I've never found any. So I've written my own - here's my version (with a slightly revised third line of the first verse):

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
we have trampled all the teachers and we've broken every rule
we won the deed and title in a dirty game of pool
our school is burning down  (that's the original schoolyard version, though the third line varies a lot)

my verses:
We pelted all the recess aides with bouncy rubber balls
and took three cans of gasoline with which we decked the halls
and they we played with matches and set fire to them all
our school is burning down

We hacked the school computer and erased our failing grades
We slashed at all the spelling books with rusty razor blades
And threw all that was left onto the bonfire that we made
our school is burning down

The records that they had on us were only dirty lies
We never made explosives from the janitor's supplies
at least not til this morning, now imagine their suprise!
our school is burning down

The fire alarms are blaring now, and this is not a drill
if you haven't heard our story yet, we guarantee you will
we're the ones who turned the gym into a charcoal grill
our school is burning down

The hopscotch court's the only way that anyone can tell
the school was ever standing here, we did our job so well
and now the hopscotch players can hop all the way to hell
our school is burning down

We made darn sure that everybody got what they deserved
we forced all of the lunch ladies to eat the food they served
when we go to trial, can we be graded on the curve?
our school is burning down

Get an mp3 at

What time is it?

Among the many smart alecky answers to "what time is it" common on playgrounds nationwide, the two best known are probably:

"Two hairs past the freckle," (said when looking at an invisible watch) and

"Half past a monkey's ass."

Of the two, there is more variation in the "monkey" version. The full version, depending on who you ask, is either:

Half past a monkey's ass
a quarter to his balls


Half past a monkey's ass
a quarter to his tail.

I'm on the side of the "balls" version being the "correct" version - it makes slightly more sense. Neither is exactly a SENSIBLE thing to say (this is, after all, the point), but I think that if you're half past a monkey's ass, I don't see how you can already be a quarter of the way to his tail - presumably you're half past that, too, unless I'm picturing this entirely the wrong way (as I probably am). And, anyway, if you've already said the word "ass," why clean up the last line?

My in-laws learned this in Ohio in the early 1960s, which is about the time that both "monkey" and "two hairs" started appearing in print. Most likely, they're a great deal older, though prior to that most folklorists would have declined to print the monkey version. I'd lay decent odds that "monkey" started to catch on in the military first, while "two hairs" could have begun life as a vaudeville joke, but I don't have a good source on that.

What smart alecky remarks did YOU know for "what time is it?"

My Boyfriend Gave Me an Apple

Updated this post with some new info:

I didn't know this one, but it seems to have been fairly popular in the US, the UK and Australia over the last thirty or forty years, at least:

My boyfriend gave me an apple
my boyfriend gave me a pear
my boyfriend gave me a kiss on the lips
and threw me down the stairs

I gave him back his apple
I gave him back his pear
I gave him back his kiss on the lips
and threw HIM down the stairs

There are several third verses, mostly involving going to the movies (since all this stair-throwing didn't end the relationship):

He took me to the movies
to buy some bubble gum
and when he wasn't looking
I stuck it up his bum

Then there are (almost inevitably) underwear variations:

I threw him over London
I threw him over France
I threw him over Harbour bride
he lost his underpants

(This is often followed by a verse where he flies all over London, France, and Harbour Bridge (or the USA or any number of other "third" places) to find his underpants.

Folks, this is one messed-up relationship. Some folklorists say this is about girl empowerment, but I'm not really buying it. This is a couple that throws each other down the stairs then goes to the movies to engage in all kinds of deviant acts - it's either a real BDSM power couple or a seriously dysfunctional couple with no one I can really sympathize with (something tells me that that initial stair-throwing wasn't the first act of violence in the relationship).

But all analysis aside, how old is this? It's been appearing in print since the 1980s, but almost certainly goes back further than that - a variation was published in Captain Billy's Whiz Bang in 1921:

First I gave her peaches
then I gave her pears
then I gave her fifty cents
and kissed her on the stairs

This sort of suggests that it may have come from ribald rhymes about prostitutes - by the 1970s or 80s, though, violent rhymes were probably less likely to get you in trouble than sex rhymes (at least in the states, where violent media tends to be much more likely to be considered "family friendly" than sexual media).

By way of trying to put in a centuries-old tradition, maybe we can also connect it to a couple of old, old folk songs:

The first of these is "I gave my love a cherry, it had no stone." "My boyfriend gave me an apple" sort of follows the pattern of that one (and is considerably less boring).

But a more obvious, and far more likely, thing would be to connect it to the old Irish standard "Do You Love An Apple"

Do you love an apple?
Do you love a pear?
Do you love a laddie
with curly brown hair?
Yes, I love him
and can't deny him
I will follow
wherever he goes

This is essentially the same song without the violence - the playground version sort of follows the song to a natural conclusion of what might happen if you promise to follow a laddie wherever he goes (ie, he could turn out to be a real jerk).