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Good Rhymes

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By Dan Beard

The following rhyme is unmistakably

An American Version of an Ancient Verse

It brings in our colored brother in the "befo' de wah" style.

Enna, mena, mina, mo, 
Catch a [n-word] by the toe; 
When he hollers, let him go, 
Enna, mena, mina, mo!

It is evident that the above American verse has been built on the framework of the antique Cornwall rhyme which has the reputation of coming down from the Druid priests of ancient Britain:

Ena, mena, mona, mite, 
Pasca, laura, bona, bite, 
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread, 
Stick, stock, stone, dead.

Another verse springing from the same root is familiar to the boys all over the land in some one of its many variations:

Ana, mana, mona, Mike, 
Barcelona, bona, strike; 
Care, ware, frow, frack, 
Hallico, ballico, we, wo, wack! 
Huddy, guddy, boo, 
Out goes you!

The last two lines are frequently added to other verses, and do not belong to any one rhyme in particular.

Another form, or variation, very commonly heard, is the same as the last with this exception, in place of "Barcelona, bona, strike," we have "Tuscalona, bona, strike."

Many differences in the sounds or words which compose these verses are due to the different pronunciations of the boys. West of the Alleghany Mountains the boys will say "Wee, wo, whack!" But in New York and along the Atlantic coast the boys drop the "h" in whack as they do in "white," "what," "whip," which they pronounce "wite," "wat," and "wip." Consequently the New York boy says "Hallico, ballico, we, wo, wack." Here is another ending that the counter sometimes adds to his verse to lengthen it or to save himself from being "It."

Three cheers for the red, white, and blue! 
All are out but you!

In this case the one named " you " is " It," and all the others go free.

Antiquity of the Rhymes

Where the ancestors of our present crop of young people found these verses is a question that has troubled many a wise old head, but there seems to be little doubt that the verses which our boys use for play served a far more serious purpose for our ancestors. It is claimed that in ancient Britain, when the wild-eyed Druid priests ruled the people, and built funny sorts of play-houses with stones set up on end, the priests used to sacrifice human beings in their mummeries, and in

Ena, mena, mina, mite, 
Pasca, laura, bona, bite, 
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread, 
Stick, stack, stone, dead!

the first two lines are the identical words the old priest sang when the victims who had been fattened on " eggs, butter, cheese, and bread," were being killed with " sticks, stacks and stones."

Possibly some, if not all, of these jingles were originally incantations used by the old humbugs who pretended to practice magic, often fooling themselves as well as the poor, ignorant, awe-stricken, common people by their rites. "One-ry, two-ry, ickery, Ann" is thought to be a gypsy magic spell. There is small doubt that you, my readers, are all unconsciously making fun your poor, ignorant, old forefathers every time you count out to find who is "It."

And "It "--what did that mean? Well, we will not make too many guesses into the mysterious rites that the people once thought to be religion; but we will let "It" go, as the boys understand it to be-the most undesirable part of the game that is to be played; and, whether the reader is "it" in the boyish game of "I spy," or in the great game of life, the author feels certain that his leader will play his part with that cheerful, manly spirit that makes a good play-fellow and a desirable citizen.

George Washington was "It" for the revolution. Abraham Lincoln and General Grant played "It" in the Civil War; and in both cases it was the nation that counted out to the end that all should "go free."







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Last modified: October 15, 2016.