See Saw Margery Daw

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"See Saw Marjorie Daw"
Nursery rhyme
Publishedc. 1765

"See Saw Margery Daw" is a popular English language nursery rhyme, folksong and playground singing game. The rhyme first appeared in its modern form in Mother Goose's Melody, published in London in around 1765.[1] It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 13028.

Lyrics and melody[edit]

A common modern version is:

See Saw Margery Daw,
Jacky shall have a new master;
Jacky shall earn but a penny a day,
Because he can't work any faster.[1]

The name Jacky is often replaced with Johnny or Jack.

The melody commonly associated with the rhyme was first recorded by the composer and nursery rhyme collector James William Elliott in his National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs (1870).[2]

Meaning and origin[edit]

The seesaw is one of the oldest 'rides' for children, easily constructed from logs of different sizes. The words of "See Saw Margery Daw" reflect children playing on a see-saw and singing this rhyme to accompany their game. No person has been identified by the name Margery Daw and so it is assumed that this was purely used to rhyme with the words 'seesaw'.

The rhyme may have its origins as a work song for sawyers, helping to keep rhythm when using a two-person saw. In his 1640 play The Antipodes, Richard Brome indicated the connection between sawyers and the phrase "see saw sacke a downe".[1] The game of see-saw in which two children classically sit opposite each other holding hands and moving backwards and forwards first appears in print from about 1700.[1]

The Opies[1] note that "daw" means "a lazy person", but in Scots it is "an untidy woman, a slut, a slattern" and give this variant of "Margery Daw":

See-saw, Margery Daw,
Sold her bed and lay on the straw;
Sold her bed and lay upon hay
And pisky came and carried her away.
For wasn't she a dirty slut
To sell her bed and lie in the dirt?

"Slut" may have carried no sexual connotations in this rhyme as its original meaning was simply "a slovenly woman". (Compare "Cinderslut", one of the older titles for "Cinderella", who was dirty in that she was covered in ashes from raking the cinders.)

Cultural references[edit]

  • In the anime Shakugan no Shana, a character called Margery Daw is introduced as the "Chanter of Elegies". Later, she is seen singing a verse from the song.
  • At the end of the song "Gallows Pole" (1970) by Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant sings "See Saw Margery Daw" in reference to the swinging movement of a hanged body.
  • Marjorie Daw is a short story by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (published in book form in 1873).
  • In the book Ender's Game, Ender is teased by Stilson and a group of bullies; someone chants "See Saw Margery Daw" in addition to calling him a 'Third'.
  • In the British television comedy panel game Shooting Stars, starring Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, the character played by Matt Lucas was called George Dawes. George's mother, Marjorie Dawes, would occasionally appear in his place, and was also played by Lucas. Later, in the BBC comedy sketch show Little Britain, Lucas reprised this role for the character of an overbearing and merciless leader of the weight loss group 'Fatfighters'.
  • In the 1990s children's TV programme The Riddlers, one of the characters was called Marjorie Dawe.
  • The rhyme is used to refer to 'Margo Lane' in the Feb 1948 radio drama Nursery Rhyme, one of the Shadow's cases.


  1. ^ a b c d e I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 297-8.
  2. ^ J. J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (Courier Dover Publications, 5th edn., 2000), ISBN 0486414752, p. 502.

External links[edit]