Can you name the nursery rhyme from just one line?

By: Dyann Joyce
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

From the bubonic plague to the beheadings ordered by Bloody Mary, the history behind nursery rhymes is oftentimes not so innocent. Many nursery rhymes were written as political statements or parodies. Can you identify these classic nursery rhymes from only one line? Take our quiz and find out!

Which nursery rhyme has the answer, "Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full"?

This 1744 rhyme features the sounds of the sheep and a bit of elementary counting. The noises of the sheep help children learn about onomatopoeia - words that sound like their meaning.

What nursery rhyme includes the words, "and broke his crown"?

Some say that "Jack and Jill" is about the beheading of France's Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, with their heads tumbling. However, the rhyme was written before the executions occurred. The poem may have something to do with measurements and taxation, with half- and quarter-pints being called jacks and gills.

In what nursery rhyme do you see, "Falling down, falling down, My fair Lady"?

in this traditional English nursery rhyme, the subject is most likely the destruction and renovation of the famous London Bridge, one of the country's most famous landmarks, during Viking attacks to wars. The London Bridge that was built in the early 1800s was put on the auction block in the 1960s, because it was sinking into the Thames. It was purchased, carefully dismantled, then reconstructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, of all places.

Whose garden grows "with silver bells and cockle shells"?

The silver bells and cockle shells were actually instruments of torture, and the garden growing was in reference to graveyards expanding with the dead under the reign of "Bloody Mary" in this traditional English nursery rhyme. Quite contrary, indeed.

Who was washed out, until "out came the sun and dried up all the rain"?

Traditionally a learning finger action game, the song "Itsy Bitsy Spider" is a favorite. Children mimic the spider's actions as they improve their manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination. Its origins are thought to be English.

Whose tails were cut off with a carving knife?

The history behind the "Three Blind Mice" involves "Bloody Mary," the daughter of King Henry VIII, Queen Mary I. The three blind mice were three noblemen, convicted in their plot to overthrow the queen. She didn't have them dismembered, exactly - just burned at the stake.

Who should "Bake me a cake as fast as you can"?

The lyrics of Pat-a-Cake" go back to baking a cake with a child's initial on it for a special treat or event. This clapping song has been passed down from generation to generation, since the earliest known publication in 1698.

In which nursery rhyme do you see pastries for "One a penny, two a penny"?

A hot cross bun is a spicy little fruitcake with a decorative white cross on the top. They were traditionally eaten on Good Friday, to mark the religious significance of Easter and the death and resurrection of Christ.

"His name is my name too" - to whom does this refer?

"John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" was a rhyme that originated in America to reflect and mock the long names of Germanic immigrants. This is a favorite "bus song" of children as a sing-along tune.

What rhyme includes the chant, "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down"?

One theory about this rhyme involves signs of the Black Plague. The disease brought an angry red ring rash that was rosy colored and had an unpleasant smell, so people stuffed their pockets full of flowers and herbs. Another completely different theory involves a Protestant ban on dancing. Some rule-breakers played games in a circle, without music, since they couldn't enjoy square dances with music.

Who could eat no fat, while his wife could eat no lean?

This rhyme is thought to be related to King Charles I and his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. When King Charles (Jack Sprat) declared war, Parliament left him lean by not financing him, so his wife imposed a tax to fatten the coffers. Charles I was executed in 1649.

Who "had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow"?

"Mary Had a Little Lamb" was first published in 1830, by a teacher and magazine editor, Sarah Josephina Hale. Part of the poem may have been written by a clergyman, John Roulstone, who happened to visit a school on the day when little Mary Sawyer brought her pet lamb to school.

Which nursery rhyme has a recipe of "Snips and snails, and puppy dogs' tails"?

The 19th-century "What Are Little Boys Made Of" shows that the battle of the sexes was alive even then. While boys were hardy and made of outdoorsy things, girls had the scent of home, all about baking and softness. These different qualities mattered in the battle for the attention of their parents. Boys played outside with icky things, but girls were to be nice and clean - quite a double standard.

Which nursery rhyme includes,"Half a pound of tuppenny rice, Half a pound of treacle. That’s the way the money goes"?

"Pop! Goes the Weasel" is an odd notion today, but "pop" is slang for "pawn" and "weasel" could be a fur coat. A theory goes that if someone was on hard times, they would pawn their fur coat and then get it back in time for church on Sunday. The pop is what you would do when you need some extra cash for a few days.

Who was "a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he"?

This rhyme may date back to the third century. Coel Hen, or Coel the Old, was a king of Northern England in the fourth and fifth centuries. Then there's Coel Godhebog, also known as Coel the Magnificent. No one knows for sure if the rhyme is based on one or both of these men.

Which celestial-themed rhyme mentions the "first star I see tonight"?

The fantastical wording of the "Starlight, Star Bright" nursery rhyme is a magical and whimsical way to help children go to bed. The soft lyrics have a rhythm that lulls a child to rest. In England many children slept in lofts or the higher rooms, sometimes with a slanted ceiling and usually windows to see the stars.

Who went "Wee, wee, wee, all the way home..." when his brother was at market?

"This Little Piggy" is a fun children's nursery rhyme, published in 1728, that describes many daily activities in the life of a farmer with piggies in merry ol' England. The last line is supposed to accompany tickling and grabbing all the toes, or "piggies," as a fun and pleasant way to send a child off to dreamtime.

Who "sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey" before a spider came along?

This rhyme was about a little girl named Patience Muffet. Her father was a entomologist who authored the first British catalog of local insects, including his passion - the spider - even though spiders are not insects. It's debated whether or not events happened as told in the rhyme, but the little girl was a real person and there were many species of spiders and bugs at her residence.

Who is "coming in his train of cars, with moonbeam windows and with wheels of stars"?

In the nursery rhyme, "The Sandman," kids are invited to take a train to dreamland. Perhaps it inspired the Christmas train book and movie, "The Polar Express."

In what rhyme do you see that "when the wind blows, the cradle will rock"?

Some say that "Rock-a-Bye Baby" was inspired when a young Pilgrim spied a Native American mother suspending her baby in a cradle made of birch bark from a branch in a big yew tree. When the wind blew, the cradle would rock, coaxing the child to sleep peacefully while his mother rested or did chores close by.

Who "runs through the town, upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown"?

In a time before Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, this poem by William Miller encouraged children to listen to their version of the news, brought by the town crier.

Who said to the pieman, "Let me taste your wares"?

Before fast food and food trucks with new and foreign flavors, food was sold by street sellers or at local fairs. These fairs grew and became a place for jousting, sports and marketplaces. The fair was the most popular place to sell one's "wares" and one season brought the income for a year in some villages.

Where do you see, "This is the cat that killed the rat, that ate the malt, that lay in the house"?

"This is the House that Jack Built" is written as a cumulative tale, with the house at the center of activity for a range of animals and people. It's a circle of life, of sorts.

Who gets the tragic news,"Your house is on fire and your children are gone"?

"Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home" is the rhyme the farmers sang, to warn ladybugs to flee before fields were burned, after harvest time. The ladybug was a invaluable helper to the farmer in killing crop-eating pests.

Which counting rhyme includes the lines,"Three, four, knock at the door. Five, six, pick up sticks"?

The origin of the rhyme is unknown, but in current years it is thought to represent lacemaking and its steps, to teach children how to count. 1, 2 - the lacemaker. 3, 4 - shut the door to begin work. 5, 6 - the sticks are wooden pins used in lacemaking. 7, 8 - the pins need to be laid straight in the machine. 9, 10 - a big fat hen is a lacemaker's pillow.

Where do you see,"The mouse ran up the clock"?

"Hickory Dickory Dock" is an action poem. Although nonsensical, it introduces children to the concept of telling time by having the children mimic the clock chimes and using alliteration to hit the fundamentals.

Who "went to the cupboard to get her poor doggie a bone"?

"Old Mother Hubbard" referred to Cardinal Wolsey, who displeased King Henry VIII by failing to facilitate his divorce. King Henry was the "dog" and a new wife candidate, Anne Boleyn, was the "bone." The bare cupboard was the Catholic Church. Henry VIII broke with Rome, and the English Protestant Church arose.

What food is sometimes "in the pot, nine days old"?

"Pease pudding hot, Pease pudding cold" is actually based on a thick yellow British sauce, rather than a pudding as in the rhyme. Pease sauce is made from dried peas. It is usually accompanied by bacon or a saveloy sausage. In some versions of the rhyme, "pease pudding" is replaced with "pease porridge."

Who had a wife and couldn't keep her, so he put her in a pumpkin shell?

"Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater" is actually one of the few nursery rhymes that originated in America, as opposed to Europe. Pumpkins are not native to Europe.

Who "bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse"?

The "There Was a Crooked Man" nursery rhyme, while seemingly innocent, was actually written to ridicule a supposedly crooked man, Scottish General Sir Alexander Leslie, in a time of animosity between Scotland and England. The "crooked stile" in the rhyme refers to the border between the countries.

Where do you see "the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon"?

“Hey, diddle, diddle” was a phrase first seen in the works of William Shakespeare. The nursery rhyme is considered a fantasy piece to spark the imagination and a sense of wonder in children with its storytelling imagery.

Who lost their mittens, then began to cry,"Oh, mother dear, we sadly fear that we have lost our mittens"?

In this rhyme, a mother cat scolds her kittens for being careless and losing their belongings. This cautionary tale of three little kittens was a lesson to children to be more thoughtful and responsible with their possessions, as they were dear and not easily replaced - most were handmade.

Who had a great fall, but all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put him together again?

The classic egg shape made famous by Lewis Carroll in his “Alice Through the Looking Glass” illustrations is what most people associate with Humpty Dumpty today. However, the rhyme is older than Carroll's book. One theory holds that Humpty Dumpty was actually a large cannon that protected the city of Colchester.

What fruit prescription "keeps the doctor away"?

The self-explanatory meaning of "An Apple a Day" is pretty simple - encouraging children to choose healthy snacks, like apples, to stave off the doctor. Originally, the saying was, "Eat an apple on going to bed, and you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread."

In what nursery rhyme do you say, "Come again another day. Little Johnny wants to play"?

“Rain, Rain, Go Away” seems like a simple nursery rhyme about rainy days. However, it also refers to the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada by much smaller English ships and a smaller army, due to a rain storm.

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