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This Little Piggy! Allegories of modern life?

January 29, 2011


Allegory of Modern Life

The words and lyrics of Nursery Rhymes are important to our history and culture. With the evolution of time, and our ever chagning communications are there new nursery rhymes even being created that are more abtly suited to our times? Does modern advertising do justice to This Little Piggy? Apparently, Mrs. A,  so does NOT like little Piggy’s enthusiasm.  Some may not realize that most nursery rhymes are more than 200-300 years old?   The original nursery rhyme and finger play has quite a long history. In fact, The first line of this rhyme was quoted in a medley “The Nurse’s Song”, written about 1728, a full version was not recorded until it was published in The Famous Tommy Thumb’s Little Story-Book, published in London about 1760.  It then appeared with slight variations in many late eighteenth and early nineteenth century collections. Until the mid-twentieth century the lines referred to “little pigs”.  The most common modern version we all know it as:

This little piggie went to market,
This little piggie stayed home,
This little piggie had roast beef,
This little piggie had none,
 And this little piggie cried, “Wee! Wee! Wee!”
 All the way home. 

 (Use your finger to wiggle each toe starting with the biggest-Ok maybe not in public).  

Many of the origins of the humble nursery rhyme are believed to be associated with, or reflect, actual events in history. Many of the actual intended meanings of the Nursery Rhyme have been lost with the passing of time. A nursery rhyme was often used to parody the royal and political events and people of the day. The humble Rhyme was used as a seemingly innocent vehicle to quickly spread messages.  Are  nursury rhymes of old reflecting allegories, politics, or medicinal antidotes of  life?

  • The game was used repeatedly in Warner Bros. cartoons, such as A Tale of Two Kitties (1942) and A Hare Grows In Manhattan (1947), typically when the “bad guy” in the film is hanging onto a line high above ground, and the protagonist peels off the antagonist’s fingers one by one to the inevitable conclusion: “What do you know… Wan outta piddies!” This recurring gag is referenced in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), where Tweety Bird essentially re-enacts his “piggies” scene from A Tale of Two Kitties, this time with Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) as the victim.
  •  In a comic strip by Jules Feiffer, Ronald Reagan recites the rhyme as a sort of allegory to aspects of modern life: the little piggy who went to market is pictured as a Wall Street tycoon; the piggy who stayed home is a common, poverty stricken or homeless man; the piggy who ate roast beef is a big, muscular army general, the piggy who had none is a little, African-American child, and the piggy who cried “wee-wee-wee” all the way home is a rural couple reminiscent of Grant Wood‘s American Gothic.
  • In Seinfeld season 5 episode 21 “The Fire” Elaine wonders: “Sure, the pinky toe is cute! But, I mean, what is it? It’s useless! It does nothing. It’s got that little nail that is just impossible to cut. What do we need it for?” and Jerry explains: “Because Elaine, that’s the one that goes ‘wee-wee-wee all the way home’.”

Are the creation of nursury rhymes dead? Are we missing something by not creating nursury ryhmes for kids that mirror our modern life?   More to the communications, PR and media industry, are we still using 200 year old practices that need updating?

There have been several attempts, across the world, to revise nursery rhymes (along with fairy tales and popular songs).  Even in the late 18th century we can sometimes see how rhymes like “Little Robin Redbreast” were cleaned up for a young audience.  In the late 19th century the major concern seems to have been violence and crime, which led leading children’s publishers in America like Jacob Abbot and Samuel Goodrich to ‘improve’ mother goose rhymes.

In the early and mid-20th centuries this was a form of bowdlerisation, concerned with some of the more violent elements of nursery rhymes and led to the formation of organisations like the British ‘Society for Nursery Rhyme Reform’.  Psychoanalysts such as Bruno Bettelheim strongly criticized this revisionism, on the grounds that it weakened their usefulness to both children and adults as ways of symbolically resolving issues and it has been argued that revised versions may not perform the functions of catharsis for children, or allow them to imaginatively deal with violence and danger.

In the late 20th century revisionism of nursery rhymes became associated with the idea of political correctness.  Most attempts to reform nursery rhymes on this basis appear to be either very small scale, light-hearted updating, like Felix Dennis’ When Jack Sued Jill – Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times (2006), or satires written as if from the point of view of political correctness in order to condemn reform. The controversy over changing the language of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in Britain from 1986, because, it was alleged in the popular press, it was seen as racially dubious, was apparently based only on a rewriting of the rhyme in one private nursery, as an exercise for the children

My focus is not so much on the pyscho babble stuff but more along the lines of our evolution of modern communication, you can see more examples of how the little piggy rhyme changed  farther below with other variations.

Would you change any of the nursury rhymes from the 1700’s?  Would you at least creat new ones? How would you update an old one or create a new one to better align with today’s world? 

Are the living histories and communications from Fingerplays, Folklore, Lullabies, It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, Children’s song, Oral traditions, Kidsongs simply a thing of the past? Do you really know what you are signing about to your children from the 1700’s? And, why do we still do so?

And, more importantly, who is taking on that mantle on today to create such for our modern world? Will they have the same traction lasting some 300 years?

Just a new slant on our old world oral communciations for the moms or dads in us all.

Go ahead, I encourage you to take some editorial liscence and create your own best modern rendition of This Little Piggy!


Older references to the modern version are noted below:

FT Thumb’s LSB, C. 1760 / MG’S Melody, c. 1765,

 ‘This Pig went to Market, That Pig staid at Home; This Pig had roast Meat, That Pig had none; This Pig went to the Barn Door, And cry’d Week, Week, for more’

Songs for the Nursery, 1805 / Vocal Harmony, c. 1806 / Nurse Lovechild’s DFN, C. 1830 / Girl’s Own Book, Mrs. Child, 1831 [1832] This Little Pig Went to Market, Walter Crane, 1869

N & Q, 1890, 3rd finger ‘This little pig had bread and butter’; 1891, ‘This little pig said, Me a bit, me a bit, me a bit, before it all be gone’
Pigling Bland, Beatrix Potter, 1913 / This Little Pig Went to Market, L. Leslie Brooke, 1922.

Let’s go to the wood, says this pig,
What to do there? says that pig,
To look for my mother, says this pig,
What to do with her? says that pig,
Kiss her to death, says this pig.

    This pig got in the barn, This ate all the corn,
    This said he wasn’t well, This said he would go and tell,
    And this said—weke, weke, weke,
    Can’t get over the barn door sill.Note the various interpretations of “Wee-wee-wee-wee-wee”:
    Weke, weke, weke ( cried for weeks and weeks and weeks?)
    Me a bit, me a bit, me a bit
    And cry’d Week, Week, for more’This little pig went to market,
    This little pig stayed at home,
    This little pig had roast beef,
    This little pig had none,
    And this little pig cried, Wee-wee-wee-wee-wee, I can’t find my way home.The first line of this is quoted in a medley, ‘The Nurse’s Song’, written about 1728 and included by Ramsay in the fourth volume of The Tea-Table Miscellany (1740).
    Other sources on the history of nursery rhymes include:
    3) Below is a list of more historical meanings from a UK source:
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