Mary Mack

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Melody About this sound Play 

"Mary Mack" ("Miss Mary Mack") is a clapping game played by children in English-speaking countries. It is known in various parts of the United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and in New Zealand and has been called "the most common hand-clapping game in the English-speaking world".[1]

In the game, two children stand or sit opposite to each other, and clap hands in time to a rhyming song.

The same song is also used as a jumprope rhyme,[2] although rarely so according to one source.[3]


Various versions of the song exist; a common version goes:

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons [butt'ns]
All down her back, back, back.
She asked her mother, mother, mother
for fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants (or hippos)
Jump the fence, fence, fence.
They jumped so high, high, high
they reached the sky, sky, sky
And didn't come back, back, back
Till the 4th of July, 'ly, 'ly!
She asked her mother, mother, mother
For 5 cents more, more, more
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump over the door, door, door.
They jumped so low, low, low
They stubbed their toe, toe, toe
And that was the end, end, end,
Of the elephant show, show, show!

In some variations, Mary Mack asks her mother for fifteen cents rather than fifty.[4] These variations may represent an earlier version of the song. It changed because of the speed of the rhyme and the similarity of the spoken words "fifteen" and "fifty", and because there were few things one could buy with fifteen cents in the later part of the 20th century.[citation needed]


A common version of the accompanying clap is as follows:

  • &: Arms across chest
  • 4: Pat thighs
  • &: Clap hands
  • 1: Clap right palms with partner
  • &: Clap left palms with partner
  • 2: Clap both palms with partner

Another version:[5]

  • &: One palm up, one palm down
  • 4: Clap both partners hands
  • &: Clap own hands
  • 1: Cross arms to chest
  • 2: Slap thighs
  • 3: Clap own hands

Another Version:

  • 4: Pat thighs
  • &: Clap hands
  • 1: Clap partners right hand
  • &: Clap hands
  • &: Clap partners left hand
  • &: Clap hands
  • 2: Clap both partners hands
  • &: Clap hands

Another Version:

  • &: One palm up, one palm down
  • 1: Clap both partners hands
  • &: Reverse hands
  • 2: Clap both partners hands
  • &: Clap own hands
  • 4: clap partners right hand
  • &: clap hands
  • 5: clap partners left hand
  • &: clap hands
  • 6: clap partners right hand
  • &: clap hands


Possible origins[edit]

The first verse, the repetition, is also a riddle with the answer "love".[6]

Early mentions of the part about the elephant do not include the part about Mary Mack.[7][8]


The origin of the name Mary Mack is obscure, and various theories have been proposed. According to one theory, Mary Mack originally referred to the USS Merrimack, a United States warship of the mid-1800s named after the Merrimack River, that would have been black, with silvery rivets. This may suggest that the first verse refers to the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gaunt, Kyra Danielle. The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-hop. NYU Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-8147-3120-1. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  2. ^ Gaunt, Games Black Girls Play, p. 68
  3. ^ Cole, Joanna (1989). Anna Banana: 101 Jump-rope Rhymes. HarperCollins. p. 13. ISBN 0-688-08809-0. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  4. ^ Bronner, Simon J. (2006). American Children's Folklore. August House. p. 65. ISBN 0-87483-068-0. 
  5. ^ Bernstein, Sara (1994). Hand Clap!, p.88-9. ISBN 1-55850-426-5. Rhythm not provided.
  6. ^ Odum, Howard W. (1928). Rainbow Round My Shoulder: The Blue Trail of Black Ulysses (2006 ed.). Indiana University Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-253-21854-3. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  7. ^ Heath, Lilian M. (1902). Eighty Good Times Out of Doors. Fleming H. Revell Co. p. 186. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  8. ^ Day, Holman F. (1905). Squire Phin: A Novel. A. L. Burt Co. p. 21. Retrieved 2011-04-08.