In her essay Nursery rhymes: How murder, theft and fake news found their way into the tales we tell our children Flora Watkins explores how the good old nursery rhymes that children are taught are verbal missiles of sorts, complete with murder, lust and cruelty.
“Indeed, after analysing nursery rhymes in the late 1940s, the writer Geoffrey Handley-Taylor pronounced that about half had ‘unsavoury elements’, including murder, cruelty to animals, decapitation, physical violence and ‘stealing and general dishonesty’. “
Many nursery rhymes are dissected. Humpty Dumpty is supposedly a riddle whose answer is ‘egg’; Lavender’s Blue is a tale of seduction, Ring a Ring o’ Roses is not about the plague as is commonly taught and Hey Diddle Diddle is probably just a nonsense poem. This is not to discourage you from reading rhymes to your children or in classrooms but to make you aware of the connotations of these lyrics. If you are a nursery rhyme buff, it would be a good idea to read this story, if only to make you more aware of the stories we tell our children.