- Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, which can be spelled a number of ways, is a children's
counting rhyme, used to select "it" for games and similar purposes. The rhyme has been around in various forms since the 1850s, or perhaps earlier, and is common in many countries.
Since many similar counting rhymes existed earlier, it is difficult to ascertain its exact origin.
Many versions exist, both within cultures and between them. Some examples:
:"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" :"Catch a tiger by the toe" :"If he hollers let him go," :"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe."
Sometimes a line is added at the end of the rhyme to draw out the selection process, such as "My mother says that you are IT!", or other variations such as:
:"Out goes one":"Out goes two":"Out goes another one":"And that is you."
Another American version is::"Eeny, meeny, miny moe,":"Catch a tiger by the toe.":"If he hollers make him pay,":"Fifty dollars every day."
:"Eeny, meeny, miny moe":"Catch a fishy/fairy/baby/monkey/tiger by its toe":"If it squeals/cries, let it go":"Eeny, meeny, miny moe"
:"Eeny, meeny, miny moe":"Catch a fella by the toe":"If he hollers let him go":"Eeny, meeny, miny more":"A Blackbird came down":"from heaven and said":"you are the one":"who will be dead"
In Singaporean culture, not the entire rhyme will be finished. In fact, children end on the second line and it commonly goes and ends like this:
:"Eeny, meeny, miny moe:"Catch the spider on the wall!
The earliest known published versions in the
English languagedate to 1855, one of which used the words "eeny, meeny, moany, mite" and the other "hana, mana, mona, mike". Other versions have also appeared in Britain and America, as well as in several other European languages.
Many stories exist about the "real" meaning of the first line, although the most commonly accepted theory is that they are just
nonsense syllables. Another theory posed by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomasin their book, " The Hiram Key", suggests that the words are the first numbers in the counting system of the pre-Celtic Britons. The Lakeland Dialect Societymore specifically suggests that this is just one of many versions of Celtic sheep-counting rhymes, but it observes that a large number of 19th century English publications exist in which these counting rhymes were more often used to amuse children than to count sheep. [ [http://www.lakelanddialectsociety.org/counting_sheep.htm Counting sheep ] ]
Another possibility is that the British occupiers of India brought a
doggerelversion of an Indian children's rhyme used in the game of carambola:"ubi eni mana bou,baji neki baji thou,elim tilim latim gou." From Kamakhya, a socio-cultural study, by Nihar Ranjan Mishra. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2004. ] (p.157)
The "Tiger" in the rhyme could be a reference to the
Tippu Sultanknown as the "Tiger of Mysore" for his ferocity; he enjoyed hunting tigers and incorporated images of them into his flag. His defeat in 1799 allowed the British to conquer India.
A controversial alternative version of this poem substitutes the word "
tiger" with the word "nigger", which in some eyes has tainted the entire rhyme. Two early versions that use the 'nigger' version are:
Rudyard Kipling's "A Counting-Out Song", from "Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides," published in 1923:
:"Eenee, Meenee, Mainee, Mo!":"Catch a nigger by the toe!":"If he hollers let him go!":"Eenee, Meenee. Mainee, Mo!":"You-are-It!"
The chorus from
Bert Fitzgibbon's 1906 song "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo", copyrighted by F.B. Haviland:
:"Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,":"Catch a nigger by the toe,":"If he won't work then let him go;":"Skidum, skidee, skidoo.":"But when you get money, your little bride":"Will surely find out where you hide,":"So there's the door and when I count four,":"Then out goes you."
However, an earlier version using 'chicken' was printed in 1898:
:"Eendy, Beendy, banida, roe,":"Catch a chicken by his toe"
And the "Dorset Field Club" recorded this version in 1917:
:"Eenie, meenie, minie, mo,":"Catch a tinker by his toe.":"If he screams, let him go,":"Eenie, meenie, minie, mo.":"O.U.T. spells out,":"And out you must go.":"As fair as it can be."The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Edited by
Iona and Peter Opie1951. Oxford University Press. 1992 edition]
Others have also been found from the 1940s with words used other than "nigger". As pointed out in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, the word "nigger" was common in American folk-lore, but unknown in any English traditional rhyme or proverb. This, combined with evidence of various versions of the rhyme in England that predate the "nigger" version, suggest that the "nigger" version merely became the most popular at some point in the 20th century, probably originating in America.
Many people who grew up before the late 1960s are likely to report having heard or grown up with the "nigger" version of the rhyme. Since then, and especially the
Civil Rights Act of 1964the "nigger" variation has become much rarer in the U.S. but is still used in some circles.
In the "nigger" version of this poem, the last two lines are often changed to the version seen below, which is sometimes also found in non-racist versions:
:"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe":"Catch a nigger by his toe":"If he hollers make him pay,":"Fifty dollars every day"
Another controversial version of the rhyme from the WWII era is as follows:
:"Eeny, meeny, miny, moe":"Catch a Jap by his toe":"If he hollers make him say,":"I surrender, USA!"
United States Lawsuit
Jocular use of a form of the rhyme by a
Southwest Airlines flight attendant, encouraging passengers to sit down so the plane could take off, led to a 2003 lawsuit charging the airline with racism. The airline was acquitted when the suit was dismissed by summary judgmentby a United States District Court in Kansas City in January 2004, a decision that was upheld on appeal. [cite court
litigants ="Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co."
date =August 10, 2005
Two different versions of the rhyme were attested in court:
:"Eeny meeny miny mo:"Please sit down it's time to go
:"Eeny meeny miny mo:"Pick a seat, it's time to go
The passengers in question were
African Americanand stated that they were humiliated.
Boulevard Brewing Company, of Kansas City, Missouri, used the words under four glasses of beer on a billboard advertisement. A member of " The Kansas City Star"'s editorial board felt it was offensive, saying in the paper's op-ed page [http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/15016407.htm] that the rhyme "has an awful history, which is far from cute."
There are innumerable scenes in books, films, plays and cartoons in which "Eeny meeny ..." or a variant is used by a character making a choice, either for serious or comic effect. The phrase sometimes appears in other ways, including:
* The title of
Chester Himes's novel " If He Hollers Let Him Go" refers to the rhyme.
Salman Rushdie's " The Moor's Last Sigh", the leading character and his three sisters are nicknamed "Ina", "Minnie", "Mynah" and "Moor".
* In the 1930s, animation producer
Walter Lantzintroduced the cartoon characters Meany, Miney and Mo(later Meeny, Miney and Mo). First appearing in Oswald Rabbitcartoons, then in their own series, the trio were semi-humanized chimpanzees; clothed, living in a funny animalworld but rarely speaking understandable words. Later, in the comics, the trio spoke English with the inflections of the Three Stooges.
* In Robert Hamer's 1949 film "
Kind Hearts and Coronets", both Louis (Denis Price) and Sibella (Joan Greenwood) use the "nigger" version.
* The rhyme has been used by killers to choose victims in several films, including the 1994 films "Pulp Fiction" and "
Natural Born Killers"; the 1997 film "Funny Games" and its 2008 remake; and the 2003 film " Elephant".
* "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo" was a popular song written in 1935 by Johnny Mercer and Matty Malneck.
*"Organ Grinder's Swing" was a hit in the 1930s for Ella Fitzgerald, who sang "eenie meenie miny moe, catch that monkey by the toe...".
* The rapper Yung Joc used a slight variation of the "Eeny Meeny Miny Mo" rhyme in his song "I Know You See It."
* John Frusciante's 2005 song "A Name" contains the line "Eenie meenie miny moe, it's about time, 'bout time to go".
* Japanese singer
May Nakabayashiand rapper Seamouse the line "a game of eeny meeny miny mo" in their 2006 song "Fallin' in or Not".
* The song "My Dad's gone Crazy" by rapper
Eminemcontains the line "eenee, meenee, meini, mo, catch a homo by his toe"
* The singer
Craig Davidhad the song "Eenie Meenie" on the album " Slicker Than Your Average".
The Bloodhound Gang's song "Rang Dang" from their 1995 album " Use Your Fingers" contains the line "Einie Meanie Miney Moe. Which Of You Girls Will Be My Ho'?"
* Polish underground rapper Jimson used the line "Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe" as the title of his song from the EP "Goraczka w parku igiel".
*The Dutch girl group
Luv'recorded a song entitled "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" in 1979.
*The European pop-group
Toy-Boxhad a song entitled "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo" about the singer's lover.
*The song "Choices" by
Mudvaynecontains the line six times.
* The vinyl release of
Radiohead's album ' OK Computer' uses the words 'eeny meeny miney mo' (rather than letter or numbers) on the labels of Sides A, B, C and D respectively.The rapper Lil Wayne use it in the new version of "Lollipop" remixed with Kanye West: "Innie minie mynie mo, I'm in yo ..."
Tiduscharacter of Final Fantasy Xsays "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" before executing one of his overdrives during early hours of play.
Larry Davidand Jeff Green use "Eeny Minny Miny Mo" in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm("Lewis Needs Kidney," S05e05) to determine who would donate a kidney to Richard Lewis.
*One episode of
Whose Line is it Anywayhad the comedians show "When 'Eeny Minny Miny Mo' is not an appropriate method of choice". One answer, poking fun of the 2000 Election, was choosing George W Bush as the president.
Gil Grissomfrom the series "", said "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch a monster by the toe" at the end of the episode Monster in the Box.
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