Tweedledum and Tweedledee

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For the comic book characters, see Tweedledum and Tweedledee (comics).
"Tweedledum and Tweedledee"
Roud #19800
John Tenniel's illustration, from Through the Looking-Glass (1871), chapter 4
Written England
Published 1805
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer(s) Traditional
Language English

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are fictional characters in an English nursery rhyme and in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Their names may have originally come from an epigram written by poet John Byrom[citation needed]. The nursery rhyme has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19800. The names have since become synonymous in western popular culture slang for any two people who look and act in identical ways, generally in a derogatory context.


Common versions of the nursery rhyme include:

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
    Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
    Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
    As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
    They quite forgot their quarrel.[1]


The words "Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee" make their first appearance in print in "one of the most celebrated and most frequently quoted (and sometimes misquoted) epigrams", satirising the disagreements between George Frideric Handel and Giovanni Bononcini, written by John Byrom (1692–1763):[2]

Some say, compar'd to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee![3]

Although Byrom is clearly the author of the epigram, the last two lines have also been attributed to Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope.[1] While the familiar form of the rhyme was not printed until around 1805, when it appeared in Original Ditties for the Nursery, it is possible that Byrom was drawing on an existing rhyme.[4]

Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel[edit]

The characters are perhaps best known from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice Found There (1871). Carroll, having introduced two fat little men named Tweedledum and Tweedledee, quotes the nursery rhyme, which the two brothers then go on to enact. They agree to have a battle, but never have one. When they see a monstrous black crow swooping down, they take to their heels. The Tweedle brothers never contradict each other, even when one of them, according to the rhyme, "agrees to have a battle". Rather, they complement each other's words. This fact has led Tenniel to assume that they are twins, and Gardner goes so far as to claim that Carroll intended them to be enantiomorphs — three-dimensional mirror images. Evidence for these assumptions cannot be found in any of Lewis Carroll's writings.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Rudyard Kipling references Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee at the beginning of the short story "Her Majesty's Servants", from The Jungle Book (1894).
  • GK Chesterton's story "When Doctors Agree", from "The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond", has the main character noting that there is no difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. "You will remember that it is distinctly recorded that they agreed. But remember what they agreed about."
  • In a 1921 letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, the writer James Joyce uses the twins "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" to characterize Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung and their conflict.[5]
  • Helen Keller said of democracy in the US: "Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee." [6]
  • Tweedledum and Tweedledee appear in the 1951 version of Alice in Wonderland[7] They are often represented by actors in Disney theme Parks. The Disney versions of the characters later appeared in the Disney television series House of Mouse and in the final scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.[8]
  • Cyndi Lauper sings : ...Don't tell me nothing--I--I--don't wanna know, And twidely--dee--and twidely--dum, I'll Kiss you, I'll Kiss you, I'll Kiss you... in song I'll kiss you from album She is so unusual (1983)
  • In the film Alice in Wonderland (1999), they appear right after Alice's encounter with the talking flowers, which also were originally only in Through the Looking-Glass.
  • In the anime and manga series Kiddy Grade, Tweedledum (a teenage boy) and Tweedledee (a teenage girl) are twin members of a special, trade policy enforcer group named "ES" consisting of agents with various superpowers.
  • During the 2000 United States presidential election, candidate Ralph Nader pointed out that George W. Bush and Al Gore were not very different in their corporate policies,[9] and called them Tweedledum and Tweedledee.[10]
  • "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum" is the opening song on Bob Dylan's 2001 album Love and Theft.[11]
  • Leading up to the United Kingdom general election, 2010, Tory leader David Cameron compared coalition-building British party leaders to "Tweedledum talking to Tweedledee, who is talking to Tweedledem."[12]
  • Tweedledum and Tweedledee appear in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland as the Red Queen's servants, portrayed by Ben Cotton and Matty Finochio.[13]
  • Tweedledum and Tweedledee appear in Alice in Wonderland (1976), as a brother and sister who engage in incestuous sexual intercourse. Though the actors who played the pair were billed as being real-life siblings, they were not related.


  1. ^ a b I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 418.
  2. ^ C.Edgar Thomas: Some Musical Epigrams and Poems, The Musical Times, November 1, (1915), p. 661.
  3. ^ John Byrom: Epigram on the Feuds between Handel and Bononcini, The Poems, The Chetham Society 1894–1895. Source: Literature Online.
  4. ^ a b M. Gardner, ed., The Annotated Alice (New York: Meridian, 1963).
  5. ^ James Joyce: Letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver. 24 June 1921
  6. ^ Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States Harper Perennial Classics, 2005. p.345 ISBN 0-06-083865-5.
  7. ^ J. Beck, The Animated Movie Guide (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2005), p. 11.
  8. ^ Griffin, S. (2000). Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: the Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out. New York: New York University Press. p. 228. ISBN 0-8147-3122-8. 
  9. ^ "Political compass". Pace News. Retrieved 2008-09-14. compared to other western democracies, especially those with a finely-tuned system of proportional representation, most mainstream political activity in the US is concentrated over a more narrow ideological range 
  10. ^ "Nader assails major parties: scoffs at charge he drains liberal vote". CBS. Associated Press. 2000-04-06. Retrieved 2008-09-14. There is a difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but not that much. 
  11. ^ "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum". Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  12. ^ "All Bets Are Off in British Campaign". New York Times. 2010-04-26. Retrieved 2010-04-26. “Tweedledum talking to Tweedledee, who is talking to Tweedledem”
  13. ^