Are the Children actually singing and playing a game about pestilence and death,or is it folklore evolving from folklore?
The singing play game involves a group of children holding hands to form a circle, dancing around singing, “Ring Around the Rosies”. The lyrics have many variations and have also developed over time.
This is the version that I remember as a child:
Ring around the rosies
Pocket full of posies
We all fall down
When the children finish singing the last line, “we all fall down”, the children fall to the ground. The last child to hit the ground ends up in the center of the circle and the game continues with another round of the lyrics.
The most notorious hidden meaning in the nursery singing game is about the Black Plague also known as the bubonic plague originating from Central Asia and spreading throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages starting around 1340 and lasting ‘til 1400.
- Ring around the rosies: represents the red sores that are a common symptom
- Pocket full of posies: the posy flower was used to help relieve the pain of the sores
- Ashes…Ashes… : It was common practice to cremate the infected bodies and homes
- We all fall down : A third of the Western European population died from the bubonic plague
Another Common Version
Ring a ring a roses
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down
This version of the song is supposedly referencing the plague that occurred in London 1665. A-tishoo! A-tishoo!, is claimed to be representing the sound one makes when sneezing, that or… London depleted their tissue supply in 1665 and the people were demanding more tissue. “A-tissue! A-tissue!”. That last sentence was completely 100% made-up and it seemed funny at the time so I’m standing by it.
The first printed version of “Ring around the Rosy” was published in 1881 in Kate Greenaway’s Mother Goose Old Nursery Rhymes.
I have a question
If there were groups of children gathering in the streets of Europe holding hands dancing and singing about pestilence and death for roughly over 500 years why didn’t anyone report it or at least document it?
Folklife Today, has classified folklore that is about folklore metafolklore. It is typically untrue but some might have some small truths to them. The metafolklore about the game in question is untrue. The lyrics of any version of “ring around the rosy” have no real meaning or known origin. As for the origins of the game involving the nursery rhyme, Folklorist Philip Hiscock suggested:
“The more likely explanation is to be found in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the “play-party.” Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment. They were hugely popular, and younger children got into the act, too.” (Snopes)
Ring around the rosy is a children’s game with many variations from around the world and modern versions have developed and are currently still being played as a sing play game by our little ones today. It is very human of us in wanting to believe in hidden meanings behind the games, stories, movies, or other forms of entertainment. The older the secret of the hidden meanings the better, whether it’s true or not, doesn’t matter. It creates an added entertainment value to the old original piece of folklore. As long as the beliefs in these hidden secret meanings are maintained the value of the entertainment will hold its value.
Some other interesting hidden meanings…
According to Urban Dictionary, a ring around the rosy is a service that one will provide with their tongue after doing some butt stuff with a partner. As for those gentleman who have experienced having intercourse with a lady who was having her menstrual cycle, if you discovered that you had a red ring around your penis after taking off the condom, that… is a ring around your rosy dude.
FACT CHECK: Ring Around the Rosie. (2000, November 17). Retrieved September 16, 2018, from https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/ring-around-rosie/
Bubonic plague. (2018, August 27). Retrieved September 16, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubonic_plague
McDaniel, S. A. (2017, May 03). “Ring-around-the-Rosie” Is Not about the Black Death, Nor Has It Ever Been. Retrieved September 16, 2018, from http://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2017/05/03/ring-around-the-rosie-is-not-about-the-black-death-nor-has-it-ever-been/
Winick, S. (2014, July 24). Ring Around the Rosie: Metafolklore, Rhyme and Reason. Retrieved September 16, 2018, from https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2014/07/ring-around-the-rosie-metafolklore-rhyme-and-reason/