Sticks and Stones (nursery rhyme)

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"Sticks and Stones" is an English language children's rhyme. It persuades the child victim of name-calling to ignore the taunt, to refrain from physical retaliation, and to remain calm and good-natured.

First appearance[edit]

It is reported[1] to have appeared in The Christian Recorder of March 1862, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where it is presented as an "old adage" in this form:

Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.

The phrase also appeared in 1872, where it is presented as advice in Tappy's Chicks: and Other Links Between Nature and Human Nature, by Mrs. George Cupples.[2] The version used in that work runs:

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names will never hurt me.

Possible Falsity[edit]

Although insulting words and name-calling do not cause bruises and broken bones, they may cause emotional pain and psychological harm to the target. Insulting words can be used to shame people[3] and by bullies with the intention of hurting people, but because of the prevalence of this idea in English-speaking culture, the victims and people around them may blame the victims for experiencing pain, by believing or saying that the victims are being "too sensitive", rather than recognizing that the aggressor's intent to cause pain.[4] This idea—that intentional insults should be sloughed off without acknowledging the pain they caused—is not prevalent in some other cultures.[according to whom?][4]

Role in culture[edit]

This sentiment is reflected in/reflects the common law of civil assault, which holds that mere name-calling does not give rise to a cause of action, while putting someone in fear of physical violence does.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Gary Martin. "The Phrase Finder". Retrieved September 22, 2012. 
  2. ^ Cupples, Mrs. George [Ann Jane Dunn Douglas] (1872). Tappy's Chicks: And Other Links Between Nature and Human Nature (1872). London: Strahan & Co. p. 78. 
  3. ^ Delaney, Tim. Shameful Behaviors. p. 46. 
  4. ^ a b Adahan, Miriam. Sticks and Stones: When Words are Used as Weapons. p. 11.