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Nursery Rhyme

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Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocketful of rye
Four-and-twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.

Nursery rhymes. Full of rhyme and rhythm and odd images. Not so full of sense.

Rock-a-bye baby in the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Nursery rhymes are a form of oral folklore and overlap with children's songs, lullabies and Riddles. They may be connected to Parlor Games. Counting-out rhymes are a subgroup.

Patty-cake, patty-cake, baker's man,
Bake me a cake as fast as you can.
Roll it and squash it and mark it with a B
And dash it in the oven for baby and me.

The English nursery rhymes specifically are connected with the name of Mother Goose, whence they are also called 'Mother Goose rhymes'. Mother Goose is an old folklore figure or stereotype — an archetypal elderly country woman, who was originally interpreted as a teller, or mythical originator of fairy tales; but her focus shifted to nursery rhymes in the late 18th century. She also figures in a nursery rhyme herself, and is the subject of a traditional pantomime. She is usually portrayed wearing a tall hat and shawl (the old Welsh peasant costume), except when she is an anthropomorphic goose.

One, two, put on a shoe
Three, four, knock at the door
Five, six, pick up sticks
Seven, eight, lay them straight
Nine, ten, a big fat hen.

Characters from nursery rhymes, like Old King Cole, Humpty Dumpty, or Mother Goose herself are Public Domain Characters that may feature in all kinds of works. The writer may try to explain their rhymes — often enough, with a parody origin.

Hey-diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed to see such a sight.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Modern lore often attributes macabre and horrifying "origin stories" to nursery rhymes; the most widespread possibly being that "Ring Around the Rosy" note  is a song about the plague. While that particular example is most likely Urban Legend, debate continues for others. The origins of most nursery rhymes are simply not known, and many are in all likelyhood nonsense rhymes that never made much sense. There are, however, more firmly rooted examples demonstrating that this can be Truth in Television. "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", for instance:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Not only is the rhyme itself openly dark, but its second printed appearancenote  documents an additional, even darker and stranger couplet. Its wording hints at a Shakespearean-era origin, and bolsters a suspicion among folklorists that it has a lost political or allegorical meaning as well:

Then out went th' old woman to bespeak 'em a coffin,
And when she came back, she found 'em all a-loffeingnote 

Newer Than They Think also often applies to this, with people sometimes attributing much older meanings to nursery rhymes that are much more recent ("Pop Goes The Weasel" for example is thought to only be about 150 years old).

Obviously, drawn upon for Ironic Nursery Tune. May also feature in a Fractured Fairy Tale or a Fairy Tale Free-for-All. Often has Rhyming Title and/or features characters with Rhyming Names. Compare the Playground Song.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Black Butler, the main antagonist of the Noah's Ark Circus uses the name Tom the Piper's Son as his alias.
  • In Glitter Force Doki Doki, Maya attempts to sing "Rock-a-bye Baby" to Dina to put her to sleep. Unfortunately, Maya is a terrible singer, and just makes Dina cry even louder.
  • In Legend of the Gold of Babylon, Lupin's search for the MacGuffin Location is hidden within an actual Nursery Rhyme; "How many miles to Babylon? Three-score miles and ten...". Lupin even lampshades it regarding its brilliance and figures out the code within the rhyme; the 70 miles mentioned in the rhyme refer to seven booby traps in the Tower of Babel's ruins protecting part of the titular MacGuffin.

    Comic Books 
  • Several nursery rhyme characters appear in Fables and even more in the spinoff Jack Of Fables.
  • DC Comics supervillain Solomon Grundy is named after a nursery rhyme; "Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday..."

    Fairy Tales 
  • In "Maid Maleen", the tower where Maleen was imprisoned inspired children to sing a nursery rhyme as they passed it.
    "Kling, klang, gloria.
    Who sits within this tower?
    A King's daughter, she sits within,
    A sight of her I cannot win,
    The wall it will not break,
    The stone cannot be pierced.
    Little Hans, with your coat so gay,
    Follow me, follow me, fast as you may."
  • "Little Otik": Before each meal, the titular monster sings a nursery rhyme in which it lists everything and everyone whom it has previously eaten.
    "I am an eater, and have eaten:
    some grits from a saucepan,
    a basinful of milk,
    a loaf of bread,
    my father and mother,
    a girl with a wheelbarrow,
    a peasant and a cart loaded with hay,
    a swineherd and pigs,
    a shepherd and his sheep,
    and now will eat you too."

    Fan Works 
  • Lincoln's Memories: Luna, when she's between the ages of three and seven, frequently quotes nursery rhymes. Her first line in the series was her at age five saying, "Lincoln, Lincoln, pumpkin eater" about a baby Lincoln eating mashed pumpkin.

    Films — Animated 
  • Alongside fairy tales, the Shrek franchise has also adapted and parodied multiple characters from English-language nursery rhymes, who all coexist with each other and other traditional stories. In the main films, the Three Blind Mice are recurring characters and the Muffin Man is the baker who created the Gingerbread Man; in the spin-offs, Puss in Boots (2011) shows Little Boy Blue as a bully in Puss' orphanage, Jack and Jill as a feared couple of bandits, and Humpty Dumpty as an anthropomorphic egg and Puss' former best friend, while its sequel Puss in Boots: The Last Wish shows Little Jack Horner as the vicious owner of a pie factory and crime lord who built a collection of smuggled magical artifacts after growing envious of fairy-tale characters for upstaging his nursery rhyme.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Acalantopia - Proezas e Desventuras em um Brasil Encantado (Acalantopianote  - Prowess and Misadventure in an Enchanted Brazil) is a Brazilian fantasy novel about a couple in 1920 trying to rescue and catalogue several magical creatures and elements from nursery rhymes, folk songs, tongue-twisters, lullabies, folk tales and myths from Brazilian Folklore. In specific, several beings from traditional Brazilian nursery rhymes are reinterpreted and illustrated, such as mafagafos (undescribed fictional birdlike animals from a popular tongue-twister), the Vaca Amarela ("Yellow Cow", from a rhyme used for taunting), and the potato from the Batatinha quando nasce Espalha a rama pelo chão ("little potato, when it sprouts, spreads its branches over the ground") rhyme.
  • Angela Nicely: “Talent!” reveals that Angela used to dress as a teapot and sing “I’m a Little Teapot” when she was in nursery school. Later in the same story, Angela tells Laura to say, “Eenie meenie miny moe” when trying to hypnotise her.
  • In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Alice meets up with Humpty Dumpty himself and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Resulting in her being quite Genre Savvy: she knows that the king has promised to send all his horses and men to help Humpty Dumpty, and she awaits the crow with great anticipation, to break up the fight.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien wrote several "expanded" versions of nursery rhymes, filling in background to make them "reasonable". The idea is that these are the "original" versions, and what we remember today are just vague fragments that don't make any sense on their own. He attributed them to Bilbo and put one — from "Hey diddle diddle" — in Frodo's mouth in The Lord of the Rings.
    • His rendition of "Hey, diddle diddle" is, in fact, a drinking song. The musical does a rendition of it.
  • Jack Spratt of Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime books is himself a nursery rhyme figure and runs across several others. (Though his ambit includes Fairy Tales as well.)
  • Mrs. Wren in John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos makes use of rhymes as enchantments. Taffy ap Cyrmu, in the same work, takes his name from one: "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief."
  • In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, nursery rhymes contain great secrets. One character jeers at the way ordinary people recite them to babies.
  • Neil Gaiman's short story "The Case of the Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds" humorously places Mother Goose characters in a parody of crime noir, as "Little" Jack Horner, private eye, attempts to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Deep Secret, one of the Deep Secrets of the title is hidden in a nursery rhyme, and the hero has to interpret it in order to save the Love Interest's life.
  • Agatha Christie titled several novels after nursery rhymes. In A Pocket Full of Rye, and more famously And Then There Were None, victims are murdered in the manner of a nursery rhyme. Lampshaded in Five Little Pigs, in which Poirot is downright irritated that the list of suspects is reminding him of a nursery rhyme again.
  • In Devon Monk's Magic to the Bone, Allie uses "Miss Mary Mack" as her mantra.
  • Roys Bedoys: In one video, Roys and his friends, plus Ms. H, parody “The Wheels on the Bus”.
  • Brave New World features a more adult version of Georgie Porgie called "Orgy Porgy." (Given kids in this world are encouraged to sexually experiment as young as six, this isn't surprising)
    Orgy Porgy, Ford and fun
    Kiss the girls and make them one
    Boys at one, girls at peace
    Orgy Porgy gives release.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who serial Frontier in Space, Jo prevents her hypnosis by reciting nursery rhymes.
  • In Lessons for a Perfect Detective Story one episode (called "Nursery Rhyme Murder") evolves around murders following the lyrics of a television station's old nursery rhyme, which told the story of how ten little children died one by one. The fact there's ten verses upsets Tenkaichi because he can't stop the murderer until the rhyme is finished (as it's one of the conditions) but if he lets ten people die his popularity will tumble.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Puppet Shows 
  • In Bear in the Big Blue House, Shadow's stories are often nursery rhymes with some modern jokes sprinkled in.
  • Mother Goose Treasury might as well be Nursery Rhyme: The Show. It is all about the title character's interaction with Nursery Rhyme characters.
  • In The Noddy Shop, a fairy tale book based on a nursery rhyme will sometimes be read by the characters, with a modern version of the rhyme being played over it based on the episode's moral. For example, in "Lost and Found", a version of Little Bo Peep is shown in which Bo Peep and her sheep decide to split up to become famous, but then realize that it would be better if they did an act together.


  • Two Lalaloopsy dolls, Tuffet Miss Muffet and Little Bah Peep, are based on the nursery rhymes "Little Miss Muffet" and "Little Bo Peep", respectively.

    Video Games 
  • Thief: Deadly Shadows contains several nursery rhymes, all of them rather disturbing (and accurate foreshadowing).
  • Dead Space has the very very very creepy singing of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in it.
  • Mixed-Up Mother Goose, a 1987 Sierra game in which the all the characters have lost their items, and you have to go through the game reuniting them.
  • In Fate/EXTRA, the embodiment of nursery rhyme, mostly from Alice in Wonderland, is a Caster-class Servant. A representative of children's love for the genre, the Moon Cell thus recognizes the genre itself as the "Hero of Children" and makes a Servant that mirroring its Master's adoration to it. Its Matrix; descriptions of identity, skills, and Noble Phantasm, and its dialogues are written in nursery rhyme.
  • This trailer for the upcoming addition to the Amnesia series, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, features an unsettling rendition of "This Little Piggy".
  • Cursery are a series of games produced by Blue Tea Games that are a Darker and Edgier spin on the rhymes. "The Crooked Man" and "Humpty Dumpty" are the first ones.
  • In Conker's Bad Fur Day, Conker is forced to sing a nursery rhyme to Fangy the Raptor in order to hypnotize him.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of U.S. Acres from Garfield and Friends had Aloysius Pig asking the cast to do some of these. This turns out to be easier said than done, as every nursery rhyme they try has offensive things in them. Towards the end, they get back at Aloysius by making up a rhyme about him.
  • Apart from the pop hits and Nick Jr. songs that play in Face's Music Party, remixes of popular nursery rhymes also play in each episode.
  • The 1938 Silly Symphony short "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" is a series of nursery rhymes with celebrity caricatures in the main roles.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Nursery Rhymes, Mother Goose


Shadow's story

Shadow recites the "Rock-a-Bye Baby" nursery rhyme.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / NurseryRhyme

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