The Muffin Man
|"The Muffin Man"|
A Muffin man, illustrated in a Punch cartoon from 1892
The most widely known lyrics are as follows:
Do [or "Oh, do"] you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Do you know the muffin man,
Who lives in Drury Lane?
Yes [or "Oh, yes"], I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Yes, I know the muffin man,
Who lives in Drury Lane.
Origins and meaning
The rhyme is first recorded in a British manuscript of around 1820 preserved in the Bodleian Library with lyrics very similar to those used today:
Do you know the muffin man
the muffin man the muffin man.
Do you know the muffin man,
That lives in (down) Drury Lane?
Victorian households had many of their fresh foods delivered; muffins would be delivered door-to-door by a muffin man. The "muffin" in question was the bread product known in the U.S.A. as English muffins, not the much sweeter cupcake-shaped American variety. Drury Lane is a thoroughfare in Westminster.
The rhyme and game appear to have spread to other countries in the mid-nineteenth century, particularly the USA and the Netherlands. As with many traditional songs, there are regional variations in wording. Another popular version substitutes "Dorset Lane" for Drury Lane.
Iona and Peter Opie observed that, although the rhyme had remained fairly consistent, the game associated with it has changed at least three times including: as a forfeit game, a guessing game and a dancing ring.
In The Young Lady's Book, published in 1888, Mrs Henry Mackarness described the game as:
The first player turns to the one next her [sic], and to some sing-song tune exclaims:
- "Do you know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man?
- Do you know the muffin man, who lives on Drury Lane?"
The person addressed replies to the same tune:
- "Yes, I know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man;
- Oh, yes, I know the muffin man, who lives on Drury Lane."
Upon this they both exclaim:
No. 2 then turns to No. 3, repeating the same words, who replies in the same way, only saying, "Three of us know the muffin man," &c. No. 3 then turns to No. 4, and so on round the room, the same question and answer being repeated, the chorus only varied by the addition of one more number each time.
- "Then two of us know the muffin man, the muffin man," &c.
Verses beyond those described in the book have been sung. For example, the song may be concluded, "We all know the Muffin Man…"
The popularity of the rhyme can be seen in its use in a variety of cultural contexts, including:
- The Muffinman in Jane Austen's Persuasion (1818) is probably the first literary mention of the Muffin Man.
- The Jellyman in Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy (2005) is probably a reference to the Muffin Man.
- In the 1956 movie Reach for the Sky, the song is heard as part of an RAF officers' mess game where each player sings a verse while balancing a glass of beer on his head.
- In the movie Jaws (1975), Chief Brody's son Shaun is singing "The Muffin Man" while making sandcastles on the beach.
- In the 1988 movie Wee Sing Grandpa's Magical Toys, one of the characters is the Muffin Man.
- In the 2001 movie Shrek, while being tortured by Lord Farquaad for information about the whereabouts of fairytale creatures that Farquaad considers pests, Gingy the gingerbread man "confesses" and recites the Muffin Man. In the 2004 sequel, Shrek 2, Gingy identifies the location of the Muffin Man: "He's down on Drury Lane". A shot of the street sign "Drury Lane" appears. Shrek and Gingy have the Muffin Man conjure a giant gingerbread man named Mongo.
- The cult movie Muffin Man (2003) is about an obesity epidemic, epitomized by the prevalence of the "muffin top" waistline, that leads to the extinction of the human race. The theme song "Muffin Man Squat" is a rap variation of the traditional Muffin Man song.
- In the 2006 animated film Hoodwinked!, a goody shop dealer with the nickname "the Muffin Man" is referenced in passing: Red Puckett (Anne Hathaway) runs into Boingo (Andy Dick) during her bike ride and asks Boingo why he isn't helping the Muffin Man today, and he mentions that his employer had to close down after a mysterious bandit recently stole his recipe books.
- In "S.O.B.'s" (Season 3, Episode 9) of the television show Arrested Development it is casually revealed that George Bluth, Sr. is a multiple poisoner referred to as the "Muffin Man".
- In the SpongeBob Squarepants episode "Texas", after Sandy sings a song, Patrick asks SpongeBob if he thinks that Sandy knows the Muffin Man song.
- Due to Bill O'Reilly's repeated coverage of a now debunked story of the federal government paying $16 per muffin, liberals have referred to him as the Muffin Man.
- Do You Know the Muffin Man? is a 1989 CBS docudrama about child abuse in a community day care center.
- In "Dance Like Nobody's Watching", the first episode of Season 6 30 Rock, a boy performs the Muffin Man song for japans best performed american songs.
In popular music
- Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart performed the song "Muffin Man", apparently based on the nursery rhyme, on the album Bongo Fury (1975).
- Eason Chan performed a song entitled "Muffin Man" on his 2011 Mandarin album ?.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Singing Game (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 379-82.
- K. F. Kiple, and K. C. Ornelas, The Cambridge World History of Food (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 1224.
- In the Dutch version of the nursery rhyme, mussels are substituted for muffins. The first line runs: "Zeg ken jij de mosselman".
- Mackarness, Matilda Anne Planche (1888) The Young Lady's Book: A Manual of Amusements, Exercises, Studies, and Pursuits. London: George Routledge and Sons. pp. 278–280. Full book from Google Books.
- Wee Sing Grandpa's Magical Toys, Internet Movie Database. retrieved 14 July 2009.
- Shrek, Internet Movie Database. retrieved 14 July 2009.
- Shrek 2, Internet Movie Database. retrieved 14 July 2009.
- Muffin Man
- "Muffin Man Squat"
- Bongo Fury - "Muffin Man"
- Eason Chan discography#Cinepoly era (2005— )