When I Was Little I Had No Sense

Here’s one that’s been going around in the states for a while, and actually comes from a folk tradition centuries old. Yes, your child becomes a link in an ancient chain when he or she chants this charming rhyme:

When I was little, I had no sense
I took a whiz on the electric fence
It hurt so bad, it burned my balls
and then I took a poop in my overalls
.*

Like most playground songs, it’s been around for years, though it’s probably had a boost in popularity since it showed up on Beavis and Butt-Head in the 90s, around the same time Ren and Stimpy had a song (presumably) based on it entitled Don’t Whiz on the Electric Fence.

But, anyway, I’m not sure how old the electric fence part is, but about that ancient tradition:

In 1964, the Clancy Brothers recorded a “Children’s Medly” of songs that they sang as children in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s (or therabouts). Prominently featured was the following:

When I was young, I had no sense
I bought a fiddle for 18 pence
The only song that I could play
was “Over the Hills and Very Far Away”

Some time after the UK went to decimal currency, a variation was going around that has turned up online:

When I was young, I had no sense
I bought a flute for 50 pence
the only song that I could play
was “F— the pope and the IRA!”

We suspect that the naughty 4th line probably goes back furhter than this, though the Clancy Brothers weren’t about to record a “naughty” version in the early 1960s (and if they had, it would’ve been pro IRA – I’m sure there were pro IRA versions going around!) Certainly it traveled around a lot. Verses about people having no sense and buying cheap fiddles go back to at least the 19th century (probably much longer), and have adapted to the times…in the 1950s they were singing it about Charlie Chaplin:

Charlie Chaplin had no sense
bought a fiddle for 50 pence
the only tune that he could play
has Ta Ra Ra Boom de Ay!

All of these verses connect it back to folk balladry. The theme of a fiddle that can only play one tune comes up in ancient ballads quiet a bit, notably in The Two Sisters. There are (as usual with this sort of thing) dozens of variations on this song, but the basic story goes like this: a girl kills her sister, and the body washes up on the shore, where a miller finds it and turns the body parts into a fiddle (the English version gets particularly gory with the details – veins for strings, fingers for screws, etc). And the only song that it will play is one that identifies the killer.

So, yes, there’s a link in a great chain that goes all the way from identifying a killer by making a violin out of body parts to pooping in your overalls!

* – This is similar to Old MacDonald Sitting On a Fence.

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2 Comments

  1. Merav Hoffman

    There's probably also a connection to the 'The Orange Flute' in there somewhere. That's the song about the flute whose owner converts to Catholicism, but the flute will only play Protestant tunes, regardless of what the owner wants.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    I first heard this variation of the above in the very early 1960s where I lived in Iowa:

    When I was young and in my prime,
    I used to jack off all the time.
    Now I'm old and have more sense,
    I use a knothole in a fence.

    Reply

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