Does “Ring-Around-the-Rosie” Refer to the Black Plague?

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Contrary to myth and seeming lyrical evidence, the children’s nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie” is not a reference to either the physical symptoms or social condition of the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death. The exact origins of the nursery rhyme are difficult to pin down, and though certain parts of the rhyme seem pretty morbid, referencing ashes and mass falling down, which could be seen as a reference to death and cremation, there’s no evidence to connect “Ring Around the Rosie” with the Black Death, which took place in Western Europe during the mid 1300s C.E. In fact, multiple versions of the rhyme have been published, some of which don’t actually contain the supposed references to the bubonic plague.

According to some theories, the rosy ring referenced in the rhyme’s title and lyrics refers to the circular red rash that is a symptom of bubonic plague. These theories further explain that the “pocket full of posies” refers to the flowers some people kept on hand during the plague in order to ward off the disease or cover the smell of death. However, other versions of the rhyme say “roses” rather than “rosie,” making both this and the reference to posies an innocent reference to flowers without apparent double meaning.