Eenie Meenie Minie Mo (Counting Rhyme)

DESCRIPTION: "Eenie meenie minie mo, Catch a (nigger/tiger) by the toe, If he hollers, let him go, Eenie meenie minie mo."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1903 (Newell-GamesAndSongsOfAmericanChildren); Simpson and Roud report an 1885 collection in Canada, and Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes claims that Bolton had a version in 1888
KEYWORDS: nonballad
FOUND IN: US(MW,NE) Britain(England(West)) Australia New Zealand
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 149, "Eena, meena, mina, mo" (1 text)
Linscott-FolkSongsOfOldNewEngland, p. 5, [no title] (1 text, the second of three "counting out" rhymes)
Leather-FolkLoreOfHerefordshire, pp. 128-129, "Counting-out rhymes" (sundry short texts, not quite the same as the American versions but too close to separate)
Henry-SongsSungInTheSouthernAppalachians, p. 238, (no title) (2 variants of a short text); p. 240, (no title) (amother variant, quite distinct, with all nonsense words); p. 242 (no title) (another very strange variant, but too short to classify elsewhere)
Newell-GamesAndSongsOfAmericanChildren, #149, "Counting Rhymes" (8 texts of the "One-ery, Two-ery, Ickery, Ann" type, 4 of "Eenie Meenie Minie Mo (Counting Rhyme)", 1 of "Intery Mintery Cutery Corn", 1 of "Alphabet Songs", 1 of "Monday's Child", and 20 miscellaneous rhymes)
Sutton-Smith-NZ-GamesOfNewZealandChilden/FolkgamesOfChildren, p. 87, "(Eenah Deenah Dinah Doe/Eenie Meenie Minie Moh") (5 texts); also p 95, "Each peach pear plum" (1 text, which he claims is a "relic of "Eenah Deenah"), p. 77, "(Eeny meeny miny mo" (1 text)
Sackett/Koch-KansasFolklore, pp. 117-118, "(Eenie, meenie, miny, mo)" (2 texts)
Dolby-OrangesAndLemons, p. 20, "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Iona and Peter Opie, _Children's Games in Street and Playground_, oxford, 1969, 1984, p. 36, "(Eeny, meeny, miney, mo)"
Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, _A Guide to Australian Folklore_, Kangaroo Press, 2003, p. 76, "(Eenee meenee macka racka)" (1 text, with the nonsense words much changed, but still a counting rhyme)

Roud #13610
cf. "Little Bit" (lyrics)
cf. "Ena, mena, more, mi" (lyrics)
cf. "Aina Mania Mana Mike" (lyrics, sort of)
NOTES [402 words]: A child's counting-out rhyme, used e.g. for choosing who is "it" in a game of tag. The Opies declare it the most popular rhyme of this sort in both the United States and England, and certainly it is the only one I ever personally encountered. I remember, at about age ten, trying to convince other children that this was *not* random and that the counter could always pick who was "it" using this scheme. I suppose I was fortunate that they didn't listen, or I'd have been "it" every time.
More interesting is the fact that we (middle-class kids in Minnesota in about 1970) gave the second line as "Catch a tiger by the toe," compared to the seemingly-older version involving catching a "nigger." Did we modify it to "tiger" because none of us knew the meaning of the racial slur, or did our parents firmly straighten us (or our older classmates, who taught us the rhyme) out? I've no clue.
Paul Stamler, who learned the rhyme some years before I did, also learned it with "tiger" -- and says that the children he played it with liked the alliteration.
Simpson and Roud's Dictionary of English Folklore (article on Counting Rymes) suggests that the British original was "chicken" or "tinker," with "beggar" also used. This seems reasonable in context, but I've yet to encounter any of these forms in real life.
NorthCarolinaFolkloreJournal, Leonidas Betts, "Folk Speech from Kipling [North Carolina]," Vol. XIV, No. 2 (Nov. 1966), p. 40, has an interesting form beginning "Eeny, meeny, tipsy, teeny, Apple jack, John Sweeney" and proceeding for six more lines, then ending "O-U-T spells out, And out goes you"; this appears to be an unusual composite of several counting rhymes. For the "O-U-T spells out" lyric, see the references under "One Two Three Four, Mary at the Cottage Door."
It may seem odd to include this in a Ballad Index; it certainly isn't a ballad -- but it is a song, and clearly of the folk variety.
Dolby-OrangesAndLemons claims the form goes back to "ancient Celtic numerals"!
Linscott-FolkSongsOfOldNewEngland lists this among three Counting Out Rymes, with the other two being related to each other but not evidently related to this. I have not seen the others elsewhere.
Sutton-Smith-NZ-GamesOfNewZealandChilden/FolkgamesOfChildren says that "Eenah Deenah Dinah Doe" was the most common form (at least in New Zealand) before 1900, with "Eenie Meenie Minie Moh" taking over after that. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.1
File: Lins005

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