The History Behind Nursery Rhymes


We've all played "Ring-around-the-Rosie" and sung our lungs out to "Old MacDonald had a Farm", but do we truly know where these songs and games originated from? Every time I sing "Humpty Dumpty" I think who is it that came up with this song? And why? All of these nursery rhymes are so unique and out-there that it is almost impossible not to wonder about their birth.

Humpty Dumpty made its first printed debut in 1810, but was said to have originated long before that. It turns out that in the 15th Century, "Humpty Dumpty" was a nickname for those of excessive weight. The rhyme is speculated to have been inspired by an attack against an old church, where a soldier firing a cannon at the roof had eventually fallen. As you can see, that may be the inspiration to Humpty Dumpty "had a great fall". For more information behind the history of the tale visit this website!

Another childhood favorite is the fun, dizzy game of "Ring-around-the-Rosie". What is said to have inspired this playful rhyme was in fact, not so playful. The song first appeared in 1881, but its history presided long before that. It is believed that the rhyme is actually based off of the deadly 1665 black plague.

The first line, "Ring around the Rosie,"...describes the buboes that formed. A bubo is a swelling in the lymph node. This swelling is often circular making up the "ring". The center turns black and is surrounded by a red rash. The "rosie" is the center of this reddish ring (Keko, examiner). Other elements of the nursery rhyme that refer to the black plague can be found here. 

One final childhood favorite that I'll dive into is "Old MacDonald Had a Farm". After doing some internet surfing, I found a website that stated the original form of this tune was titled "Old MacDougal" and was sung during World War I. Both songs have very similar sounds, but when the rhyme was recorded it was translated to our well-known "Old MacDonald".

So anytime you hear a childhood classic, try and ask yourself the same question. Because after a little research, you'll find your answers to be quite surprising.


"Myths and Legends." Origins of Humpty Dumpty and the Fall of Colchester. E2BN, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

Keko, Don. "Ring Around the Rosie and the Black Death." N.p., 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

"History of Old MacDonald." History of Old MacDonald. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

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