Definitions

eeny

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.

Versions

Many versions exist, both within cultures and between them. Some examples:

American

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.

Great Britain

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

Trinidad

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

Singapore

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!

History

The earliest known published versions in the English language date 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 Lomas in 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 Society more 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.

Another possibility is that the British occupiers of India brought a doggerel version of an Indian children's rhyme used in the game of carambola: "ubi eni mana bou, baji neki baji thou, elim tilim latim gou." (p.157)
The "Tiger" in the rhyme could be a reference to the Tippu Sultan known 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.

Controversial version

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:

From 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.

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 1964 the "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 judgment by a United States District Court in Kansas City in January 2004, a decision that was upheld on appeal.

Two different versions of the rhyme were attested in court:

Eeny meeny miny mo
Please sit down it's time to go

and

Eeny meeny miny mo
Pick a seat, it's time to go

The passengers in question were African American and stated that they were humiliated.

Advertising

The 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 that the rhyme "has an awful history, which is far from cute."

Popular culture

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:

Literature

Film

Music

  • "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 Nakabayashi and rapper Seamo use 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 Eminem contains the line "eenee, meenee, meini, mo, catch a homo by his toe"
  • The singer Craig David had 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-Box had a song entitled "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo" about the singer's lover.
  • The song "Choices" by Mudvayne contains 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 ..."

Video Game

Television

References

See also

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