Tinker, Tailor

For the spy novel/TV series/film, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
"Tinker Tailor"
Roud #802
Written England
Published 1695
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer(s) Traditional
Language English

"Tinker Tailor" is a counting game, nursery rhyme and fortune telling song traditionally played in England, that can be used to count cherry stones, buttons, daisy petals and other items. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 802. Its American version is commonly used by children for "counting out," e.g. for choosing who shall be "It" in a game of tag.


The most common modern version is:

Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.[1]

The most common American version is:

Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief,
Doctor, Lawyer, (or "Merchant")
Indian Chief.[1]

Skipping version from the 70s:

"Regular speed": Who shall I marry?
"Pepper": Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief, Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief


A similar rhyme has been noted in William Caxton's, The Game and Playe of the Chesse (c. 1475), in which pawns are named: "Labourer, Smith, Clerk, Merchant, Physician, Taverner, Guard and Ribald."[1]

The first record of the opening four professions being grouped together is in William Congreve's Love for Love (1695), which has the lines:

A Soldier and a Sailor, a Tinker and a Taylor,
Had once a doubtful strife, sir.[1]

When James Orchard Halliwell collected the rhyme in the 1840s, it was for counting buttons with the lines: "My belief - a captain, a colonel, a cow-boy, a thief."[2] The version printed by William Wells Newell in Games and Songs of American Children in 1883 was: "Rich man, Poor man, beggar-man, thief, Doctor, lawyer (or merchant), Indian chief", and it may be from American tradition that the modern lyrics solidified.[1]

Alternative versions

A. A. Milne's Now We Are Six (1927) had the following version of "Cherry stones":

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Or what about a cowboy, policeman, jailer, engine driver, or a pirate chief?
Or what about a ploughman or a keeper at the zoo,
Or what about a circus man who lets the people through?
Or the man who takes the pennies on the roundabouts and swings,
Or the man who plays the organ or the other man who sings?
Or what about the rabbit man with rabbits in his pockets
And what about a rocket man who's always making rockets?
Oh it's such a lot of things there are and such a lot to be
That there's always lots of cherries on my little cherry tree.[3]

The "tinker, tailor" rhyme is one part of a longer counting or divination game, often played by young girls to foretell their futures; it runs as follows:

When shall I marry?
This year, next year, sometime, never.
What will my husband be?
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man, thief.
What will I be?
Lady, baby, gypsy, queen.
What shall I wear?
Silk, satin, cotton, rags (or silk, satin, velvet, lace)
How shall I get it?
Given, borrowed, bought, stolen.
How shall I get to church?
Coach, carriage, wheelbarrow, cart.
Where shall I live?
Big house, little house, pig-sty, barn.

During the divination, the girl will ask a question and then count out a series of actions or objects by reciting the rhyme. The rhyme is repeated until the last of the series of objects or actions is reached. The last recited term or word is that which will come true. Buttons on a dress, petals on a flower, bounces of a ball, number of jumps over a rope, etc., may be counted.

There are innumerable variations of the rhyme:

Daisy, daisy, who shall it be?
Who shall it be who will marry me?
Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief,
Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief,
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor.
Grandmother, Grandmother,
What shall I wear?
Silk, satin, calico, cotton.
Where shall we live?
Big house, little house, pigsty, barn.
How many children shall we have?
One, two, three, four, five, six, etc.

A 2013 variation:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief,
Old Man, Young Man, Lawyer, Jailer,
Captain, Pirate, Fisherman, Chief,
Plowman, Cooper, Farmer, Teacher,
Banker, Gunner, Gardener, Cook,
Burglar, Boxer, Baker, Preacher,
Writer, Politician, or Crook

In literature

In Nella Larsen's novel,"Passing",it is referred to by character Irene Redfield. "Rich man,poor man, Beggar man,thief, Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief."

Rich man, poor man,
Beggar man, thief.
Doctor, lawyer,
Merchant, chief.

In music

One man did what no man could, stole my girl that's understood
What he did was beyond belief, that man was nothing but a common thief!
Tinker tailor soldier sailor rich man poor man beggar man, THIEF!
Tinker, tailor, Soldier, Sailor,
Rich man, Poor man, beggar man, thief,
Questioning the same refrain.
Tinker, tailor, every mother's son,
Butcher, baker, shouldering a gun,
Rich man, poor man, every man in line,
All together just like Auld Lang Syne!

In television

"It's an open invitation for you to join our little crew.
You can be small, tall, fat or thin, this still applies to you.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, beggarman or thief,
tax inspector, teacher or policeman on the beat,
join us now, it'll be alright, every day for us is like a Saturday night."
in their song "Chaos Bros."




  1. 1 2 3 4 5 I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 404-5.
  2. J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales: A Sequel to the Nursery Rhymes of England (London: J. R. Smith, 1849), p. 222.
  3. A. A. Milne,Now We are Six (London: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1927), pp. 19-21.
  4. http://www.neilinnes.org/G.htm#goosestepmama
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYlUQvFu1H4
  6. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034415/trivia?item=tr1022728
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1lkegcNeFs
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da4P2vm4NkQ

Further reading

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