Definitions

Ladybird_Ladybird

Ladybird Ladybird

"Ladybird Ladybird" (sometimes rendered as "Ladybug Ladybug", particularly in the US) is a nursery rhyme.

The rhyme

This traditional verse relates to Ladybirds, brightly-colored insects commonly viewed as lucky. The English version goes back at least as far as 1744, when it appeared in a collection of nursery rhymes. The verse has several popular forms, including:

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.

A shorter, grimmer version is also widespread:

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire,
Your children shall burn!

Ann who hides may also be Nan, Anne or Little Anne. She may have hidden under a warming pan, porridge pan, frying pan or even a pudding pan. Some variants are radically different:

All except one and her name was Aileen
And she hid under a soup tureen.

The 'little one' also may not be hiding at all, as in the following:

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home.
Your house is on fire;
Your children all roam.
Except little Nan
Who sits in her pan
Weaving her laces as fast as she can.

Further variants can be found:

Ladybird, ladybird, / Fly away home. / Your house is on fire, / Your children are flown.
All but a little one / Under a stone. / Fly home, Ladybird, / 'Ere it be gone.

And from Peterborough:

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, / Your horse is on foot, your children are gone;
All but one, and that's little John, / And he lies under the grindle stone.

An old Scottish version is given in the Wikipedia article on Ladybirds (Coccinellidae):

Dowdy-cow, dowdy-cow, ride away heame,
Thy house is burnt, and thy bairns are tean,
And if thou means to save thy bairns
Take thy wings and flee away!

Meanings

There were superstitious beliefs that it was unlucky to kill a ladybird, and that the verse would make them fly off. Or it might be that you should chant it if a ladybird lands on you: if it then flies away again, your wish will come true.

Ladybirds are useful as eaters of aphids, which would otherwise damage plants. They can also be a nuisance, but there would be logic from a farmer or gardener’s viewpoint in trying to shoo them away rather than kill them. This could be the rational basis for teaching children to respect them.

This little Nan version could be a reference to the habit of setting fires to smoke the bugs out of plants. It caused the ladybugs to fly away. The younger insects, in maggot form, would have to crawl away. Thus "your children all roam". The insects in pupate form, within their shells, would not be able to flee the danger and thus would die from the smoke or fire. The idea is that Nan is within her pupal case and cannot flee until she breaks free - "weaving her laces", undoing her pupal case.

Several more variants exist, some saying "your children alone". Variants are known in the USA, some attached to Doodlebugs.

Cultural references

  • The rhyme's title was used for a 1994 drama-documentary, Ladybird Ladybird, by Ken Loach about a British woman's dispute with Social Services over the care and custody of her four children.
  • The lines "fly away from home, your house is on fire and your children are alone" are used by Tom Waits in the song "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" on the 1985 album Rain Dogs.
  • Ladybug Ladybug is a 1963 film about the evacuation of a rural elementary school following a (mistaken) alert of an imminent nuclear attack.
  • "Ladybug, Ladybug" was a 1989 episode of In the Heat of the Night.
  • Fly Away Home is a 1996 film about a young girl who, with her father, leads a flock of Canadian geese to a wildlife refuge.

External links

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