Created By: somerandomdude on September 13, 2011 Last Edited By: somerandomdude on November 4, 2011

Whittle-Em-Down Rhyme

A rhyme/poem/song where the characters are killed off verse by verse

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Ten little Indian boys went out to dine
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
The first verse of the rhyme from And Then There Were None

This is a specific type of Ironic Nursery Rhyme that kills off each of its characters, or otherwise gets rid of them, one by one, verse by verse. Often used as a cautionary tale, but that's not a requirement. They're also common in children's rhymes where they're used to help teach children numbers, primarily subtraction. Typically children's rhymes don't have the "death" factor, instead saying "went home" or somesuch.

The usual form of such a rhyme is something along the lines of this:

X little Y's [did something]
One [did something to get themselves killed] and then there were X-1.

Note: to be an example of this trope, there has to be a number that decreases as the song goes on, or at least an implication that something is being slowly reduced, not just a list of deaths.

Do We Have This One?? Probably Needs a Better Title, and definitely Needs a Better Description.


  • The plot of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None revolves around a rhyme like this. Lethal.
  • The German song Zehn kleine Jägermeister works like this. Some lethal [[hottip:*:Neun kleine Jägermeister wollte gerne erben, damit es was zu erben gab, musste einer sterben]], some not [[hottip:**:Acht kleine Jägermeister fuhren gerne schnell. Sieben fuhr'n nach Duesseldorf und einer fuhr nach Köln.]]
  • Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. Not lethal, but rather painful.
  • The famous "99 Bottles of Beer/Coke/Whatever on the Wall." Not lethal.
  • In "I'm Being Swollowed by a Boa Constrictor" this happens to the narrator. Lethal.
  • "Ten in the Bed". Not lethal, though perhaps causes head injuries.
  • "Ten Green Bottles". Not lethal.
    • In a blackout sketch on The Benny Hill Show a group of Irish singers started to sing this, but after the first "should accidentally fall / there'll be" they can't figure out what comes next.
  • A parody of the Christmas carol "We Three Kings" talks about the Three Wise Men puffing on a rubber cigar, which is for some reason loaded with explosives.
Community Feedback Replies: 33
  • September 13, 2011
    • In "I'm Being Swollowed by a Boa Constrictor" this happens to the narrator.
    • "Ten in the Bed"
    • "Ten Green Bottles"
      • In a blackout sketch on The Benny Hill Show a group of Irish singers started to sing this, but after the first "should accidentally fall / there'll be" they can't figure out what comes next.
  • September 15, 2011
    One little piggy went there, one little piggy did that...
  • September 15, 2011
    There's this Swedish one: "Tomtenissarnas tragiska jul"

    Can't be bothered to translate it, but it's about how ten of Santa's elves die in quite brutal ways. The title roughly translates to "The Elves' Tragical Christmas".
  • September 15, 2011
    The "rhyme from And Then There Were None" is an old nursery rhyme called Ten Little Indians, which I think is the name of one of the movie adaptions. The rhyme is from before Agatha Christie was born.
  • September 15, 2011
    You get one in Dragon Age. A traumatized dwarf in the deep roads ritualistically recites a rhyme about how her group was snatched away and butchered like cattle to cope with her loss.
  • September 15, 2011
    • In the Jig Dragonslayer books, it's mentioned that the goblin tribe sings a number of such songs, about goblins. Justified since they're a whole species of Butt Monkeys who always, always lose.
  • September 15, 2011
    @/Net Monster, assuming we're thinking about the same rhyme, it's not an example because the little piggies aren't whittled down, they're just listed.
  • September 16, 2011
    Gashlycrumb Tinies is a poem teaching the reader the alphabet this way: A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil, assaulted by bears; C is for Clara, who wasted away...
  • September 17, 2011
    "Ten Little Indians" by Harry Nilsson, covered by The Yardbirds.
  • September 18, 2011
    @Psychobabble, the rhyme itself predates Agatha Christie, but that version was invented by her.
  • September 18, 2011
    "Four Little Hop-Toads" from The Muppet Show Comic Book.
  • September 18, 2011
    Tom Lehrer's "An Irish Ballad" tells how a sweet young Oirish lass went and did in her family, one by one.
  • September 18, 2011
    • Edward Gorey has The Ghastlycumb Tinies, the first two verses of which are "A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil, assaulted by bears."
  • September 18, 2011
    "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" is, again, just a list -- there isn't a number that decreases as the poem progresses.

    Same with "An Irish Ballad".
  • September 19, 2011
  • September 19, 2011
    It should probably be noted which rhymes, such as "Ten Little Monkeys", are the non-lethal variation.
  • September 19, 2011
  • September 21, 2011
    "A Gorey Demise" by Creature Feature features the deaths of twenty-six people listed alphabetically throughout the song. 'A is for Amber who drowned in a pool', 'B is for Billy who was eaten by ghouls', etc.
  • September 21, 2011
    @Lee M: Lehrer's Irish ballad fails the number condition in the description; it just describes how the persons are related to the maid the song is about, and how they are killed.

    An interesting border case might be Aleph-1 Bottles of Beer on the Wall: quite a lot is being subtracted from the number, but it doesn't decrease.

    As for "the usual form of such a rhyme" in the description, I think N instead of X would make it a bit clearer.
  • September 23, 2011
    There's a song about "Five little ducks" whose official title I don't know:

    Five little ducks went out one day Over the hills and far away Mother duck said "Quack, quack, quack, quack." But only four little ducks came back.

    Although in the last verse, mother duck goes out searching in the last verse and "All of the five little ducks came back."
  • September 24, 2011
    @ psychobabble, An early title for And Then There Were None was "Ten Little Indians". Both titles are lifted from the poem.
  • September 24, 2011
    Ten Little Agatha Christie Parodies? ;]
  • September 25, 2011
  • September 26, 2011
    Every time I read the name I Thought It Meant driving a character insane with incessant rhyming.

    I know Trope Namers are frowned upon, but I think Ten Little X might be necessary for the title. Maybe Ten Little Nine Little Eight Little Survivors?
  • October 2, 2011
    For Music:

    • "The New Orleans Incident" by Zombina And The Skeletones is about the members of the band being killed off, one by one. As each member dies in the song, their instrument is taken from the song until the vocalist is singing a capella.
  • October 3, 2011
    @Zsuna I'm pretty sure the title IS "Five little ducks".
  • October 16, 2011
  • October 16, 2011
    • The Dragonlance short story "Mission From Kendermore" in Dragon Magazine, opened with one of these rhymes ("Ten Little Kender"). The action of the story was an extended version of the rhyme, with ten kender setting off to warn the Knights of Solamnia about the Great Dragons, and only one making it. The story itself was set up so that each section started with the current number of kender, and ended with a word that rhymed with the number remaining after they'd lost one.
  • October 17, 2011
    Tabletop RPG
    • Hackmaster did a visual version of this with the Hacklopedia of Beasts Volumes 1-8. Volume 1's cover showed an eight person adventuring group, with one of the adventurers being killed by a monster. Volume 2's cover showed the remaining seven characters, again with one of them being killed. The pattern continued until Volume 8, which showed the last living party member being killed by the zombies of the first seven adventurers.
  • October 17, 2011
    Can we get translations on the foreign ones please? Thanks.
  • October 26, 2011
    Ten Little Rhymes?
  • October 27, 2011
    Flight Of The Conchords has a song where this is played with. I can't remember the name of the song, but in it, the singer/narrator is stuck on a lifeboat with two companions. They are stranded at sea and starving. Whenever the narrator goes to sleep, he wakes up with a body part missing, with the implication that his companions are cannabalizing him. The last verse has him ingesting poison, and when he wakes up his companions are dead (while he's, somehow, alive).
  • November 4, 2011
    Another non-lethal version is the children's song "Five Little Robins," where each robin flies away for no apparent reason.