Eeny meeny….

No one knows exactly where “eeny meeny miney mo” comes from – you tend to hear that it was how Druids decided who to sacrifice (the Knapps suggest that it might have been in there book, in the sidebar on the right), but there’s not a scrap of evidence to back that up. Folklorists have had a regular field day tying it into various languages of the British Isles (Cornish, etc) that may have given it its origin – it’s been recorded in print since about the mid-1800s.

The evolution of the rhyme sort of traces the history of social mores in the 20th century.

From the 19th century through the mid 20th, the rhyme went as follows:

Eeny, meeny, miney moe
catch a nigger by his toe
if he hollers, let him go
eeny meeny miney moe

In the 1950s and 60s, parents started stopping kids from that one, and it became:
Eeny, meeny, miney moe
catch a tiger by his toe
if he hollers, let him go
eeny meeny miney moe

How “tiger” became widespread, instead of, say, “robber” (which was used in some places for a while) is a mystery to me. Many people remember being forced, against their will, the change the rhyme from the racial version by parents in the 1950s and 60s, but by the 80s most kids had no idea there was ever anything racist about the rhyme (though this doesn’t always stop people who say ANY variation of the rhyme from being accused of racism now and then).

There are a million variations, of course. Some, like the ones I usually heard in the mid 80s, end with:

If he hollers, make him pay
50 dollars every day

Many append it with some variation of:
My mother told me to pick the very best one
and you are not it

Then, of course, there’s the bathroom version, which Iona Opie recorded in the 1950s in the UK and noted that it was, by then, well known to three generations:

Eeny, meeny, miney, mo
put the baby on the po
when he’s done
wipe his bum
stick the paper up the lum

(newer versions seem to change the last line to “show his mother what he’s done.” Is “lum” a term still used in the UK?)

There’s a whole wikipedia entry on this one.

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  1. Merav Hoffman

    We used to use a longer version of the 'your mother' appendage that went (London, ON, circa 1980-83)

    My mother and your mother were hanging out the clothes
    My mother punched your mother in the nose
    What color was the blood?
    (the kid who got picked on 'blood' would choose a color and it would get spelled out. If they knew numbers, this was the part where they could game the system, but usually they just blurted out the first color that came to mind, like blue)
    B-L-U-E and that spells blue and you are the one my mother said to pick!

    This would also get appended to Inky-Pinky-Ponky, another counting-out rhyme:

    Inky Pinky Ponky
    Daddy bought a donkey
    Donkey died, daddy cried,
    Inky Pinky Ponky

    Inky Pinky Ponky allowed you to put up both of your fists, so you had two shots at getting picked. If your fist was bumped at the end of the rhyme, you were out of the running, but if it was the first round, you still had another hand.

    The nouns changed in every verse, so that mother, baby, sister, brother, daddy and the donkey all had chances to die and cry until someone was finally chosen.

  2. Adam Selzer

    Merav – I really need a whole section for counting-out rhymes like that!

  3. Anonymous

    We always added another verse to that one.

    My mother said to pick the very best one and you are not IT!

  4. Herbaltablet

    Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, mid-1980s to early 1990s:

    We would often tack on the following lines to the classic "eeny meeny" rhyme (as well as other counting-out rhymes) to end each elimination:

    "The black cat says it will not be this one today, O – U – T spells out", with each syllable of "today" counted out separately.

    This has also reminded me of an alternative "eeny meeny" rhyme that we sometimes used:

    Eeny meeny mackeracka,
    Dur dur dumberacka,
    Chickenpocka, lollipoppa,
    Um pum push!

  5. Anonymous

    The one we used was:

    Eeny, meeny, miney moe
    catch a tiger by his toe
    if he hollers, let him go
    eeny meeny miney moe

    Not because you're dirty,
    Not because you're clean,
    Not because you kissed a boy under a magazine.

    Out you must go/you are now it

    If it looked like you were going to be it, sometimes you add more invented verses to cheat.

    (Toronto, Ontario, 2000s)

  6. Anonymous

    now a days im 15 they have added after u are not it we added (u dirty dirty dish rag u)

  7. Anonymous

    (1975-ish, Philadelphia):

    In the version of "Eeny meeny…" that I heard as a kid, we said, "Catch a piggy by the toe." We were blissfully unaware of the original! :p

    The next bit may seem unrelated, but I'm putting it here because it's the only other childhood rhyme I ever heard that began with "Eeny meeny." It includes a reference to a once-popular pianist, (along with 'words' that I will try to spell with accurate phonetics, as they don't exist in any language I know).

    Sidenote: it suddenly occurs to me how bits of the rhyme now sound like absolute gibberish to me, though it was all very 'normal' to me as a child:

    Eeny meeny, diss-aleeny,
    ooo-ah-ah, meh-neeny
    ah-chee gah-chee, Liberace,
    I love you, too, too, shampoo.

    [Person 1]: Saw you with your girlfriend, last night.
    [Person 2]: What was her name?
    [Person 1]: Sandy White.
    [Person 2]: How do you know?

    [Person 1]: I peeked through your window,
    [Person 2]: (new—sy!)
    [Person 1]: Gimmee some candy,
    [Person 2]: (stin—gy!)
    [Person 1]: Wash those dishes,
    [Person 2]: (la—zy!)

    Eeny meeny, diss-aleeny,
    ooo-ah-ah, meh-neeny
    ah-chee gah-chee, Liberace,
    I love you, too, too, shampoo!

    P.S. I hope it's understood that "Person 1" & "Person 2" are alternating lines. It's the Call & Response pattern found in many old forms of music.

  8. Anonymous

    We just added "My mother said to pick this one and out goes Y O U" That was on Long Island in the mid 1970's

  9. Anonymous

    The "My mother told me…" version that I knew was

    My mother told me to pick the very best one
    Not because he's dirty, not because he's clean
    Just because he is the best one
    That is Y-O-U
    Winnie the Pooh
    Red, white and blue.

  10. Becca

    After the last "eenie meenie miney mo" We would say "my son Joe says yes, my son Joe NO"

    Newfoundland Canada, through the 1990's and into the 2000s

  11. Anonymous

    Inky Binky soda cracker
    InkyBinky boo
    Inky binkysoda cracker out goes You!!!

    King tut had a butt what color was it? Spell out color.

  12. John Tullar

    Eeeny meeny jelly beenie.
    Catch a tiger by his weenie.
    If he pisses.
    Hope he misses.
    Eeeny meeny jelly beenie.

  13. Ace Ebb

    Central NJ, approx. 1984
    Nothing particularly special in this version…

    eeny meeny miney mo
    catch a tiger by the toe
    if he hollers let him go
    my mother said to pick the very best one and you are it!
    Or sometimes "you are I-T it"
    …which would sometimes lead to fights, since (unless there were only two parties involved) the whimsical addition of "I-T" changed the order and lead to accusations that it had been fudged purposely out of bias.

  14. GlowingBlueIris

    I was looking for this one! We sang it to with a particular hand-clap game that was different than what we used for other ones, it's hard to explain. Two people played it and sang it together.
    I also remember it was new, like, the kids at my school only started playing it when I was in fourth or fifth grade. So, this is from 2003(ish), Winnipeg, Manitoba.

    "[Refrain] Eenie meenie gasoline
    Ooh-ahh umbaleenee
    Education, liberation
    I hate you, not.

    Stole a piece of candy, greedy greedy
    Threw it out the window, stupid stupid
    Stole my boyfriend, naughty naughty
    Then I caught you kissing in the alley
    Didn't do the dishes, lazy lazy
    Threw them out the window, stupid stupid*
    [Refrain, plus-]
    I love you, not.
    I like you. Yeah!"

    *I don't know why we repeated this line.
    It's also different from the "eenie meenie" song, which we has no idea what the original was (what the fuck). Our version was the same as Nonny's from Toronto up there except that we said "My mother said to pick the very best one and you are not it" as the last line, and -then- you could cheat and add the line about kissing behind magazines. You could also just say “and you are it” if you were short for time.

  15. 5662b71a-e550-11e3-85bc-cfb35d88e0ee

    We still say it the original way, but nigger is not frowned upon here, and is coming back into use. It is spelled and pronounced "Niggah" though.

  16. Danielle

    My mother said to pick the best one:
    Red orange black and blue
    I pick YOU!

    (NJ, mid 2000s)

  17. Carol Ballard

    Eenie meenie minee mo
    Catch a tiger by the toe
    If he hollers make him pay
    $50 every day
    My mama told me to choose this one
    But I was naughty and chose this one
    O u t spells out goes you
    You dirty dishrag you

  18. Boo

    If me and my friends were trying to choose someone to be it, we would always say this:

    Eeny meeny miny mo
    Now the baby has to po
    When he’s done, you P-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-P!

    Whoever got picked on the last “P” when we said “P-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-P” was it.


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