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."
EARLIEST DATE: 1903 (Newell); Simpson and Roud report an 1885 collection in Canada, and Opie-Oxford2 claims that Bolton had a version in 1888
FOUND IN: US(MW,NE) Britain(England(West)) Australia New Zealand
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Opie-Oxford2 149, "Eena, meena, mina, mo" (1 text)
Linscott, p. 5, [no title] (1 text, the second of three "counting out" rhymes)
Leather, pp. 128-129, "Counting-out rhymes" (sundry short texts, not quite the same as the American versions but too close to separate)
MHenry-Appalachians, 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, #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, 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, pp. 117-118, "(Eenie, meenie, miny, mo)" (2 texts)
Dolby, 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)
cf. "Little Bit" (lyrics)
cf. "Ena, mena, more, mi" (lyrics)
cf. "Aina Mania Mana Mike" (lyrics, sort of)
NOTES [309 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.
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 claims the form goes back to "ancient Celtic numerals"!
Linscott 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 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 5.0
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2020 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.