Many people are aware that children's nursery rhymes are an important part of the oral tradition and often contain information about real events and characters. Ring Around the Rosie is famously descriptive of the progression of symptoms associated with the Black Plague*. However, these rhymes tend to get far less attention than they deserve for their poetic merits.

As children become more sophisticated, thanks to the public education system and their exposure to television, schoolyard rhymes have expanded from a means of recording facts into the sublime. The lines of a rhyme are as likely to contain erudite social commentary as they are to provide a simile for a reddish skin rash.

Let us take as an example the modern rhyme Girls Are Sexy.

Girls are sexy, made out of Pepsi
Boys are rotten, made out of cotton
Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider
Girls go to Mars to get more candy bars

This compelling work is clearly a youthful outcry against the commercialism of society. Examining the rhyme line by line, we find that each is a cynical description of the societal values children find themselves expected to take as their own.

Girls are sexy, made out of Pepsi

This could be a summary of any five minutes of television commercials on any channel at any time of day. What does little Susie want for her birthday? She wants carbohydrate-free soda with a low fat sugar replacement so that she can have a hot body and have lots of fun showing her boobies to a cameraman in a New Orleans motel room. This literal interpretation of the adage "you are what you eat" originated in 1980s dairy commercials, when young children were told by their peers "I may be a pudgy, apple-cheeked five year old now, but I'm drinking milk..."

Boys are rotten, made out of cotton

Observant young minds have probably noticed that a chipped-away corner of a modern shopping mall reveals it to be made of styrofoam, that Mommy's car is made of plastic, and that clothing made of natural fibers like wool feels itchy against their skin. They exist in a world of man made artifice, where what occurs naturally is highly suspect. They don't play outside, for fear of dirt, allergens, and strangers. They are encouraged to sit in front of the TV where they are safe. Nature is fallible and tends to be transient and inconsistent.

Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider

A child in the grip of a cartoon binge or too much/not enough Ritalin may appear to be "on another planet". Children know that society prefers them safely sedated. This line demonstrates their awareness that, the more they are isolated from reality, with all its ugliness and danger, the less they comprehend.

Girls go to Mars to get more candy bars

The ultimate statement about the jaded disposition of today's child. Kids know a hundred brand names before they know the names of the planets. These girls are going to Mars the candy company, not Mars the celestial body. Hamburgers come from McDonald's, shoes come from Nike, and candy bars come from Mars, Inc.


Of course, the argument could be made that Girls Are Sexy is little more than an updated Ring Around the Rosie, the only difference being that the latter describes a thing and the former, a mindset. Looking for greater poetic meaning requires us to venture into darker territory and acknowledge things children know that we might wish they didn't. The poem Ranger Rick demonstrates children's advanced ability to not only state observations, but use those observations to craft allegory.

Ranger Rick had a six foot dick
And he showed it to the girl next door
She thought it was a snake
So she hit it with a rake
And now it's only five-foot-four

The childish sensationalism of Ranger Rick disguises a very adult cautionary tale. Though the size of his endowment may give Ranger Rick certain bragging rights, he is obviously a sexual predator. In a true-to-life twist, Ranger Rick is not some untouchable in a greasy trenchcoat. He is an authority figure, an employee of the military-industrial complex, the consummate symbol of benevolent masculinity.

This explains the reaction of the young girl. Surely it is no accident that she mistakes his penis for the creature that, in the Bible, symbolizes temptation and led to the condemnation of the female in the western world. Because she sees a snake, rather than a predatory adult, we know the girl is ashamed and believes she is responsible for this event. Hitting it with a rake is not a reaction of fear, but her attempt to rectify a situation she thinks she brought upon herself.

The poem is ultimately tragic. The little girl defends herself, misled though she may be, but the world is not safe from Ranger Rick. He still has an ample 5'4", more than enough to damage the psyches of countless other girls next door.


The simple wording of the poems recited while jumping rope or playing hand clapping games belies the literary deftness of the children who crafted them. What could easily be passed over as rhyming gibberish reveals itself to be weighty commentary from those observing the world closer to ground level. The genius of schoolyard rhymes should not be ignored.



* Not true. Check Snopes.com for an in-depth explanation of why, including the fact that the rhyme first showed up in 1881, long after the Plague. So don't be repeating that to all your buddies down at the pub and claiming I told you.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

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