Skipping-rope rhyme

A skipping rhyme (occasionally skipping-rope rhyme or jump-rope rhyme), is a rhyme chanted by children while skipping. Such rhymes have been recorded in all cultures where skipping is played. Examples of English-language rhymes have been found going back to at least the 17th century. Like most folklore, skipping rhymes tend to be found in many different variations. The article includes those chants used by English speaking children.


Explorers reported seeing aborigines jumping with vines in the 16th century. European boys started jumping rope in the early 17th century. The activity was considered indecent for girls because they might show their ankles. There were no associated chants. This changed in the early 18th century. Girls began to jump rope.[1] They added the chants, owned the rope, controlled the game, and decided who participated.[2]

In the United States, domination of the activity by girls occurred when their families moved into the cities in the late 19th century. There, they found sidewalks and other smooth surfaces conducive to jumping rope, along with a host of contemporaries.[2]

Another source suggests that, prior to 1833, the invention of pantaloons, enabled girls to jump rope without displaying ankles.[3]

Chants are intended to structure the game and are secondary, explaining the nonsense or irrational lyrics. These chants are unusual inasmuch as they were transmitted from child to child usually without an underlying reason, as opposed to nursery rhymes which were transmitted from adult to child and often contained a moral. Chants may contain girlish references to boyfriends or marriage.[4]

While jump rope continues as a sport outside of school, the chants were discontinued in the early 1970s with school authorities concerned about accidents, content of the chants, misuse of rope, etc. The attraction of television was a factor along with diminishment of children playing outdoors for various reasons including safety.

Examples of chants

Two girls with a long rope stood about 12 feet (3.7 m) apart and turned the rope as other children took turns jumping. If one were not a good jumper, one would be an 'Ever-Laster,' that is, one would perpetually turn the rope. When it was a child's turn to jump, she would enter as the rope turned, and jump to the rhyme until she missed. Then she would become a rope-turner, and the next child in line would take her place.

Jump in, jump out

For a line of potential jumpers, the jumpers were restricted on time by the length of the chant/ They jumped in at the beginning, jumped out at the end and the next jumper took their turn.

To teach the ladies how to dance.
First the heel, then the toe,
Then the splits, and around you go!
Salute to the Captain,
Bow to the Queen,
And turn your back on the Nazi submarine!

In another version, the teacher is "Benjamin Franklin."[5] In the Charlie Chaplin rhyme, the child jumping had to follow directions as the rope was turning: touching the heel of one foot on the ground; touching the toe of the same foot on the ground; doing a (short) split of the feet, turning around, saluting, bowing, and jumping out from the turning rope on the last line. This rhyme, c. 1942, reflects children's awareness of World War II (The Queen to whom we bowed was the mother of the present Queen of England).

An Australian version of the Charlie Chaplin Skipping Song, as sung at Salisbury Primary School in Brisbane, Australia in the mid 1950s, is as follows:

Charlie Chaplin went to France,
To teach the ladies how to dance,
First he did the Rumba,
Then he did the twist,
Then he did the Highland Fling,
And then he did the splits.

There's also "Betty Grable went to France,/To teach the soldiers how to dance." (The rest is the same.)

Ran around the cor-(skipper jumps out, and turners continue the syllable until they reenter)-ner
and slammed on the brakes, but the brakes didn't work,
So I bumped into a lady who bumped into a man,
Who bumped into a police car, man, oh man!
Policeman caught me
Put me on his knee,
Asked me a question
Will you marry me?
Yes, No, Maybe So (repeated)
January, February, March, April, May, etc. (each child had to jump in during the month they were born).

I see (xxx)s underpants, Not too big, not too small, Just the size of Montreal (or just the size of cannonball, Berlin Wall, etc.) Another variation is I see London, I see France, I see (xxx)s underpants.Are they blue? Are they pink? I don't know but they sure stink! Teacher, teacher, I declare, I see (xxx)s underwear (or bottoms bare)

Political statement

In Dublin, Ireland, the visits of inspectors known as "Glimmer men" to private houses to enforce regulations to prevent the use of coal gas in restricted hours during the Emergency gave rise to:[6]

Keep it boiling on the glimmer, if you don't you get no dinner.

Counting rhymes

Most rhymes are intended to count the number of jumps the skipper takes without stumbling. These were essentially restricted to times when there were relatively few jumpers and time was abundant. These rhymes can take very simple forms.

This chant was collected in London in the 1950s:

Big Ben strikes one,
Big Ben strikes two,
Big Ben strikes three,


Applesauce, mustard, cider[7]
How many legs has a spider?
1, 2, 3, etc.

alternately, "Salt, vinegar, mustard, pepper. How many legs does a spider have? 1,2,3, etc."

Ran around the cor-(skipper jumps out, and turners continue the syllable until they reenter)-ner
and slammed on the brakes, but the brakes didn't work,
So I bumped into a lady who bumped into a man,
Who bumped into a police car, man, oh man!
Policeman caught me and put me in jail,
All I had was ginger ale
How many bottles did I drink?
10! 20! 30! 40! ...(increases by 10 for each successful jump)
Butterfly, butterfly: touch the ground [jumper touches the ground as she is jumping]
Butterfly, butterfly: show your shoe. [..thrusts out her shoe]
Butterfly, butterfly: [n] to do.
One, two, three, ... [up to the count of n, which increases by 1 with each set of jumpers]

Another rendition substitutes, "teddy bear" for "butterfly. This can be dated no earlier than the early 20th century, to the term of Theodore Roosevelt.[9]

Ice cream, Soda pop, cherry on top,
Who's your best friend, let's find out;
Goes A! B! C!


Who's your boyfriend/girlfriend, I forgot;
Is it an A! B! C!


[Name of jumper]'s got a boyfriend/girlfriend,
Who is it?
A! B! C!
Tell me the name of my honey-bunch.
A, B, C, etc.
Cinderella dressed in blue, went upstairs to tie her shoe, made a mistake and tied a knot, how many knots will she make? 1, 2, 3, etc.
Cinderella dressed in green, went downtown to buy a ring, made a mistake and bought a fake, how many days before it breaks? 1, 2, 3, etc.
Cinderella dressed in lace, went upstairs to fix her face, oh no oh no, she found a blemish, how many powder puffs till she's finished? 1, 2, 3, etc.
Cinderella dressed in silk, went outside to get some milk, made a mistake and fell in the lake, how many more till she gets a break? 1, 2, 3, etc.

The counting continues as long as the jumper avoids faulting. If they do then the counting starts again.:[10]


Speed rhymes

Some rhymes are intended to test the agility of the jumper by turning the rope more rapidly. The key word to start turning fast is often "pepper" to indicate speed, such as:

Mable, Mable,
Set the table,
Don't forget the salt,
Pepper! (rapid turning follows)[8][11]

Pretty Little Dutch Girl

"Pretty Little Dutch Girl" was a lengthy song, much too long for a simple chant, but often excerpted for jumping rope. "My husband's name is Fatty. He comes from Cincinnati." Or alphabetical, "My husbands name is Alfred, He comes from Atlanta, He works in the attic.." All made up on the spur of the moment. The jumper may be obliged to jump out upon finishing a letter, or be allowed to continue until either failing to invent new lyrics, or faulting.

Historical rhymes

Other rhymes are highly topical, and sometimes survive long after the events that inspired them have disappeared from the headlines. Perhaps the most notorious rhyme of this type is one that began circulating during the 1892 trial of Lizzie Borden. Despite Lizzie's desire to stay out of the public eye, children would follow her around and chant the rhyme. It later started being used as a rhyme used when skipping-rope:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
She gave her mother forty whacks,
After she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Lizzie Borden got away,
For her crime she did not pay. [12]
I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened the window
And in-flew-enza.[13][14]

This one from Prohibition:

There's a big fat policeman by the door, door, door.
He grabs you by the collar,
And makes you pay a dollar.
No, I won't go to Casey's any more.

Culturally insensitive rhymes

Children were often the first to notice differences between people and comment on them. Various chants reflect the lack of association with other cultures up until the 1960s or so; such as:

My mother's Chinese
My father's Japanese
My brother's Taiwanese
My sister's Vietnamese

See also


  1. "The History of Skipping".
  2. 1 2 "The Jump Rope Book". 1996. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  3. "Children and Youth in History". 1833. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  4. "Jump rope rhyme". Encyclopedia Britannica. December 7, 2015. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  5. Matt Hopkins (July 5, 2014). "The Great List of Jump Rope Rhymes & Skipping Songs". Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  6. Reid, L.M. (2010). "Remembering Rationing and Bombs during World War Two in Dublin Ireland" Check |url= value (help). Hubpages. Retrieved 2011-03-18. Yes we had a rhyme we sang when we played skipping out in the street. It was about the gas rationing and the glimmer.
  7. 1 2
  8. Adam Selzer (December 17, 2009). "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear: The Long History of a Jump Rope Rhyme". Playground jungle. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  9. The British Library. "Skipping games - Cinderella, dressed in yellow". Playtimes. The British Library. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  10. Tucker, Elizabeth (September 30, 2008). Children's Folklore: A Handbook. Greenwood Folklore Handbooks. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 59. ISBN 978-0313341892.
  11. Lynch, Eileen A. (November–December 1998). "The Flu of 1918". The Pennsylvania Gazette. University of Pennsylvania. External link in |publisher= (help)
  12. March, Peyton C. (September 4, 1932). "General March's Narrative: Glimpses of Woodrow Wilson". The New York Times. p. XX3, Special Features section.

Further reading

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