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'Sex Is the Law' - Chants, Rhymes and Mockery in Children's Folklore

A Pocket Tale

By

Children are masterful at tormenting one another, as any parent or sibling knows. One very young child can say to another, "You are orange." Whether the words convey any literal meaning or not is irrelevant. In fact, to the victim, it's worse if the meaning is not entirely understood, if only the derisive tone hits home. "I am not orange!" "You are so-o-o orange. You're the orangest person I've ever seen!" The unknown can be very annoying, and even sometimes terrifying ... for us all.

Children, in their attempts to make sense of the world — both the culture and rituals of their peers as well as the more complex and often secretive concerns of adults — create and participate in a rich folklore of their own. Frequently making use of chants and songs, they interpret and manipulate the world for one another — and often with an energetically creative and mocking wit.

Perhaps some readers will remember this widely known gross-out rhyme — possibly having heard it or recited it themselves at the dinner table or in the cafeteria:

Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts
Mutilated Monkey meat
Little chopped up birdies' feet
Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts --
And I forgot my
spoon.

And here's a variant:

Great green globs of greasy grimy gopher guts,
Mutilated monkey feet,
Chopped-up baby parakeet,
And I forgot my spoon.

So give me a sandwich with pus on top,
Monkey vomit and camel snot,
French-fried eyeballs dipped in goo,
Have some, (Mom or Dad, or Little Orange), it's good for you!

Ever testing the boundaries and pushing the envelope of what is considered to be acceptable behavior, children are inventive in a thousand ways. Anything might be singled out for exploration, mimicry, or parody — such as adult officiousness, jauntily dealt with in this skip-rope rhyme:
Ladies and gentlemen, uncles and aunts,
Cockeyed mosquitoes and bow-legged ants.
I come here before you to stand behind you
And tell you something I know nothing about.
Next Wednesday, which is Good Friday,
There's a ladies' meeting for men only.
No admission, pay at the door,
Pull up a chair and sit on the floor.

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