Playground Classics

lorelang.jpg The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren
Iona and Peter Opie
New York Review Books, 2000 (orig. 1959)

A remarkable study of the oral folklore of kids, some of which has been passed on for centuries, solely by word of mouth and strictly child-to-child. I recognized some of the English traditions from my own childhood in New Zealand; since this sort of stuff was never written down until the Opies got started, they were probably bought over by children emigrating from England a hundred years before. Some of the Opies’ highlights follow.

The sausage is a cunning bird
With feathers long and wavy.
It swims about the frying pan
And makes its nest in gravy.

¿Cuándo la gallina cruza la carretera?
Waarom steekt een kip de weg over?

The boy stood on the burning deck
A-melting with the heat.
His big blue eyes were full of tears;
His shoes were full of feet.

A cry of jubilation: “By gog jolly custard!”
Whilst inflicting torture: “Mummy’s little cissy!”
By one being tortured: “’Ere, nark it!”

On April 1st, known as Huntigowk Day in Scotland, one sends the unsuspecting on spurious errands; for example, to procure a long stand, or cooking glue, or a bucket of blue steam, or striped paint.

The girls of two villages “used a set of verses, too coarse to quote, in which they imputed gross unchastity to each other.”

In Northern England, one’s baby teeth, when lost, are burned with salt. If they were left unburned, a dog might find and eat them, and dog teeth would grow in their place. Or, one might have to search for them in a pail of blood in Hell. So burn those teeth.

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