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 to be "it" for games (such as tag) and similar purposes such as counting out a child that has to be stood down from a group of children as part of a playground game. It is one of a large group of similar 'Counting-out rhymes' where the child 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", "nigger" (when the word was still in common use), "tinker", "tigger", "chicken", "monkey", "baby", "spider", "teacher", or a two-syllable name; 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.
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 the United States city of New York 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!
...which was one of many variants of 'counting out Rhymes' collected by Bolton in 1888.
A Cornish version 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.
Another version of this type of rhyme heard sung in English by children in Bombay in 1986 and 1987 and written down by Glen Dryhurst during several business trips was:
- Eena, meena, maca-roni,
- dee, dye, domi-nony,
- It's half past ten,
- an old lady came,
- she called my name,
- is my name.
On saying that last word, the child pointed to was either: "in", "out" or "it" as the case may be.
One theory about the origins of the rhyme is that it is descended from Old English or Welsh counting, similar to the old Shepherd's count "Yan Tan Tethera" or the Cornish "Eena, mea, mona, mite". There are similar examples of children's rhymes that were collected in England that are more obviously counting rhymes up to ten, such as 'Ya, ta, tethera, pethera, pip, Slata, lata, covera, dovera, dick'.
- 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 UK that pre-date this version, would seem to suggest that this version originated in America, although the apparently American word 'holler' was first recorded in written form in the fourteenth century, whereas the words 'niger' or 'nigger' were first seen in the sixteenth century in Britain, with their current disparaging meaning (O.E.D.). 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.
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 innumerable scenes in books, films, plays, cartoons and video games, as well as lines from many songs, in which "Eeny meeny ..." or a variant is used by a character who is making a choice, either for serious or comic effect. The phrase sometimes appears in other ways, including: as a popular song written in 1935 by Johnny Mercer and Matty Malneck. "Organ Grinder's Swing" was a hit in the 1930s for Ella Fitzgerald, who sang "eenie meenie miny moe, catch that monkey by the toe...". The vinyl release of Radiohead's album OK Computer (1997) uses the words "eeny meeny miny moe" (rather than letter or numbers) on the labels of Sides A, B, C and D respectively. In literature the title of Chester Himes's novel If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) refers to the rhyme. In Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), the leading character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor. In film, 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". The rhyme appears towards the end of 1949 British black comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets. The use of the word nigger was censored for the American market. The words were used by Sam Campbell to name a litter of four, then five squirrel pups, as reported in his book Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo, and Still Mo. The rhyme has been used by killers to choose victims in several films, including the 1994 film Pulp Fiction and Woody Harrelson movie Natural Born Killers; and the 2003 film Elephant.
- I. & P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 1952), p. 12.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 156-8.
- L. and W. Bauer, "Choosing Who's In/It". 2002. Retrieved 2012-04-09.
- R. D. Abrahams and L. Rankin, Counting-out Rhymes: a Dictionary (University of Texas Press, 1980), p. 119.
- Charles Taylor Chatterings of the Pica (1820)
- H. Bolton, H., The Counting-Out Rhymes of Children: Their Antiquity, Origin and Wide Distribution (1888)
- Fred Jago The Glossary of the Cornish Dialect (1882)
- Nihar Ranjan Mishra, From Kamakhya, a socio-cultural study (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2004), p. 157.
- H. Bolton, H., The Counting-Out Rhymes of Children: Their Antiquity, Origin and Wide Distribution (1888, Kessinger Publishing, 2006), pp. 46 and 105.
- B. Fitzgibbon, Words and music, "Eeny, meeny, miny, mo" F. B. Haviland Publishing Co (1906).
- R. Kipling, R. T. Jones, G. Orwell, eds The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Editions, 1994), p. 771.
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- S. Nicholson, Ella Fitzgerald: a biography of the first lady of jazz (Da Capo Press, 1993), p. 80.
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- J. Lenburg Who's Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film & Television's Award-Winning and Legendary Animators (Hal Leonard, 2006), ISBN 155783671X, p. 197.
- Slide, Anthony (1998). Banned in the U.S.A..: British Films in the United States and Their Censorship, 1933–1966. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1-86064-254-3. Retrieved 2008-10-02. p. 90.
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