Thought Jack and Jill were about two kids playing on a hill? Or Rub-a-dub-dub was about three men enjoying a nice bath? You may want to think again.
From poverty to adultery and the plague to execution, the real meaning behind popular nursery rhymes are not as kid-friendly as we may have once thought.
Warning: Childhood-ruining content ahead.
Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill dates back all the way to the 17th century.
But one of the most shocking theories behind the nursery rhyme comes from a village north of Somerset, known as Kilmersdon.
In 1697, it’s rumoured that two local residents hid their affair from their partners by getting down and dirty up on a hill. Unfortunately, they didn’t get their fairytale ending – the legend claims that Jack died from falling on a rock and Jill passed away during childbirth.
Ring a Ring o’ Roses
Possibly one of the catchiest playground chants of all time, Ring a Ring o’ Roses (or Ring Around The Rosie, depending on where you live) involves holding hands in a circle before dropping to the floor.
And urban legend suggests it was used to ward off the Black Death during the Great Plague of London that killed 15% of Britain’s population.
Leading experts in nursery rhymes Peter and Iona Opie explain that the ‘falling down’ mentioned in the song is a reference to death, The Sun reports.
A rosy rash, they allege, was a symptom of the plague, and posies of herbs were carried as protection and to ward off the smell of the disease.
Sneezing or coughing was a final fatal symptom, and ‘all fall down’ was exactly what happened.
While the modern lyrics are ‘three men in a tub’, Rub-a-dub-dub used to be about ‘three maids in a tub’. And instead of a rhyme about taking a nice dip in the bath, the meaning is actually a lot more raunchy than any parent would probably care to imagine.
The song is actually about men spying on naked women washing themselves, with the sight ‘enough to make a man stare’.
Pop Goes the Weasel
This merry tune is not, in fact, centered on the spontaneous combustion of animals, but on an all too familiar children’s theme: poverty.
The song is apparently a nonsensical rhyme that reveals itself to be about poverty, pawnbroking, the minimum wage – and hitting the Eagle Tavern on London’s City Road.
According to reports, this is proved in a good chunk of the poem where plays on words are allegedly old Cockney slang terms. Apparently, ‘pop’ is a slang term meaning to pawn something, while ‘weasel’ means ‘coat’.
Rumours suggest that, back in the day, a man was expected to own a suit in order to dress nicely on Sunday. The trick to being able to do this was to pawn your suit (‘Pop goes the weasel’) on Monday and then purchase it back before Sunday.
The real Humpty Dumpty was not a person but a powerful cannon used by the Royalist forces during the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651, according to the Daily Mail.
Eventually, it crashed to the ground and the king’s cavalry (the horses) and the infantry (the men) couldn’t put it back together. Without their cannon, they were soon overrun.
Oranges and Lemons
Complete with a fun dance, Oranges and Lemons surprisingly, isn’t about oranges and lemons. The song actually follows a condemned man en route to his execution – hence the lyrics ‘Here comes a chopper / To chop off your head!’ – past a slew of famous London churches: St Clemens, St Martins, Old Bailey, Bow, Stepney, and Shoreditch.
First the Macarena, and now this. My childhood is ruined.