Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
|"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe"|
|Form||Nursery rhyme and counting-out game|
"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", which can be spelled a number of ways, is a children's counting rhyme, used to select a person in games such as tag. It is one of a large group of similar 'counting-out rhymes' where the child who is pointed to by the chanter on the last syllable is 'counted out'. The rhyme has existed in various forms since well before 1820, and is common in many languages with similar-sounding nonsense syllables.
Since many similar counting rhymes existed earlier, it is difficult to ascertain this rhyme's exact origin.
A common modern version is:
- Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
- Catch a tiger by the toe.
- If he hollers, let him go,
- Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
There are many common variations, such as replacing tiger with "piggy", "tinker", "tigger", "chicken", "monkey", "baby", "spider", "teacher", "miner", a two-syllable name, etc.; and changing the verb in the third line to "screams", "wiggles", "squeals" or another verb. The last two lines may be changed to "if he hollers, let him pay, fifty dollars every day."
Sometimes additional lines are added at the end of the rhyme to draw out or manipulate the selection process or make it seem less predetermined, such as:
- My mother told me/says to pick the very best one, and that is Y-O-U
- O-U-T spells out, you are not it.
- Pig snout you are out.
- Out goes Y-O-U.
Occasionally the line copies 'Ip dip':
- Not because you're dirty,
- Not because you're clean,
- Just because you kissed a boy/girl behind the magazine.
The first record of a similar rhyme is from about 1815, when children in New York City are said to have repeated the rhyme:
- Hana, man, mona, mike;
- Barcelona, bona, strike;
- Hare, ware, frown, vanac;
- Harrico, warico, we wo, wac.
The "Hana, man" was found by Henry Bolton in the US, Ireland and Scotland in the 1880s but was unknown in England until later in the century. Bolton also found a similar rhyme in German:
- Ene, tene, mone, mei,
- Pastor, lone, bone, strei,
- Ene, fune, herke, berke,
- Wer? Wie? Wo? Was?
Variations of this rhyme, with the nonsense/counting first line have been collected since the 1820s, such as this Scottish one ..
- Hickery Pickery, pease scon
- Where will this young man gang?
- He'll go east, he'll go west,
- he'll go to the crow's nest.
- Hickery Pickery, Hickery Pickery
More recognizable as a variation, which even includes the 'toe' and 'olla' from Kipling's version is
- Eenie, Meenie, Tipsy, toe;
- Olla bolla Domino,
- Okka, Pokka dominocha,
- Hy! Pon! Tush!
This was one of many variants of "counting out rhymes" collected by Bolton in 1888.
A Cornish version collected in 1882 runs:
- Ena, mena, mona, mite,
- Bascalora, bora, bite,
- Hugga, bucca, bau,
- Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
- Stick, stock, stone dead - OUT.
- ubi eni mana bou,
- baji neki baji thou,
- elim tilim latim gou.
The rhyme inspired the song "Eena Meena Deeka" in the 1957 Bollywood film Aasha.
- Eeny, meena, mina, mo,
- Catch a nigger by the toe;
- If he hollers let him go,
- Eena, meena, mina, mo.
This version was similar to that reported as the most common version among American schoolchildren in 1888. It was used in the chorus of Bert Fitzgibbon's 1906 song "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo":
- Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,
- Catch a nigger by his toe,
- If he won't work then let him go;
- Skidum, skidee, skidoo.
- But when you get money, your little bride
- Will surely find out where you hide,
- So there's the door and when I count four,
- Then out goes you.
It was also used by Rudyard Kipling in his "A Counting-Out Song", from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935. This may have helped popularise this version in the United Kingdom where it seems to have replaced all earlier versions until the late twentieth century.
Iona and Peter Opie pointed out in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes that the word "nigger" was common in American folk-lore, but unknown in any English traditional rhyme or proverb. This, combined with evidence of various other versions of the rhyme in the British Isles pre-dating this version, would seem to suggest that it originated in North America, although the apparently American word 'holler' was first recorded in written form in England in the fourteenth century, whereas according to the Oxford English Dictionary the words 'Niger' or 'nigger' were first recorded in England in the sixteenth century with their current disparaging meaning. The 'olla' and 'toe' are found as nonsense words in some nineteenth century versions of the rhyme, and it could possibly be that the original 'Where do all the Frenchmen Go?' (probably originating during one of the periods of Anglo-French warfare) was later on replaced by the earlier version in the United States, using some of the nonsense words.
There are considerable variations in the lyrics of the rhyme, including from early twentieth century in the United States of America:
- Eeny, meeny, miny moe,
- Catch a tiger by the toe.
- If he hollers make him pay,
- Fifty dollars every day.
(While this is kind of nonsensical, since a tiger would never do that.)
A distinct version of the rhyme in the United Kingdom, collected in the 1960s, is:
- Eeeny, meeny, miney, mo.
- Put the baby on the po.
- When he's done,
- Wipe his bum.
- And tell his mother what he's done.
Versions collected in New Zealand in 2002 include:
- Eeny, meeny, miny mangi,
- Catch a mangi by the tangi.
- If he squeals, steal his wheels,
- Eeny, meeny, miny mangi.
A jocular use of a form of the rhyme by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, encouraging passengers to sit down so the plane could take off, led to a 2003 lawsuit charging the airline with intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Two versions of the rhyme were attested in court; both "Eeny meeny miny mo, Please sit down it's time to go" and "Pick a seat, it's time to go". The passengers in question were African American and stated that they were humiliated due to what they called the "racist history" of the rhyme. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Southwest and the plaintiffs' appeal was denied.
There are many scenes in books, films, plays, cartoons and video games, as well as lyrics from many songs, in which a variant of "Eeny meeny ..." is used by a character who is making a choice, either for serious or comic effect. Notably, the rhyme has been used by killers to choose victims in several films, including the 1994 films Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers; and the 2003 film Elephant.
Eenie Meenie Records is a Los Angeles-based music record label.
The names of many songs include some or all of the phrase, including:
- "Eenie Meenie" by Jeffrey Osborne on self-titled 1982 album.
- "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo" by Danish pop group Toy-Box in 1999 from their first album "Fantastic."
- "Eenie Meenie" by Jamaican-American singer Sean Kingston and Canadian singer Justin Bieber in 2010.
- "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe!" by Japanese dance and vocal unit Sandaime J Soul Brothers on 2015 album "Planet Seven".
Film and television
In the 1930s, animation producer Walter Lantz introduced the cartoon characters Meany, Miny, and Moe (later Meeny, Miney and Mo). First appearing in Oswald Rabbit cartoons, then in their own series.
The 1933 Looney Tunes cartoon Bosko's Picture Show parodies MGM as "TNT pictures", whose logo is a roaring and burping lion with the motto "Eenie Meanie Minie Moe" in the place of MGM's "Ars Gratia Artis".
In May 2014, an unbroadcast outtake of BBC motoring show Top Gear showed presenter Jeremy Clarkson reciting the rhyme and deliberately mumbling a line which some took to be "catch a nigger by his toe". In response to accusations of racism, Clarkson apologised to viewers that his attempts to obscure the line "weren't quite good enough".
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- Fred Jago The Glossary of the Cornish Dialect (1882)
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- "Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines". Ca10.washburnlaw.edu. 2005-08-12. Retrieved 2011-11-15.
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- "Jeremy Clarkson: I didn't mean to use N-word - video| News | The Week UK". Theweek.co.uk. 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
- Josh Halliday, Nicholas Watt and Kevin Rawlinson. "Jeremy Clarkson 'begs forgiveness' over N-word footage | Media". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-05-14.