Creep me out in rhyme
March 23, 2009 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Teach me new creepy children's rhymes.

I'm looking for creepy, sing-song childhood rhymes, or at least ones that seem like they could be jump-rope or nursery rhymes. If they're even creepier when actually recited by children, so much the better.

The classic example is Lizzie Borden took an axe, of course, though despite the subject matter it rates pretty low on the creepiness scale. And Ring-around-the-rosie can be creepy, but only when you know what it's about and it's done right.

Examples of the sorts of things I'm really looking would be the rhyme from the beginning of the "Hush" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (this), or the rhyme from Stephen King's The Tommyknockers. I'll happily accept any examples, either made up for books or film like my two examples, or real ones actually used by children.
posted by Caduceus to Writing & Language (38 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The first scene of M (1931) by Fritz Lang features children singing: "Just you wait, it won't be long. The man in black will soon be here. With his cleaver's blade so true. He'll make mincemeat out of YOU!" (Video)
posted by jchgf at 10:55 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ok, it's from A Nightmare On Elm Street, but the the scene where the kids are chanting it in the dream sequence is creepy as hell, and it often pries its way into my brain at inopportune moments.

One, two, Freddy's coming for you
Three, four, better lock your door
Five, six, get a crucifix
Seven, eight, better stay up late
Nine, ten, never sleep again!
posted by zerokey at 10:55 PM on March 23, 2009

Oranges and Lemons takes a nasty turn in the final lines. (You may know it from Nineteen Eighty-Four.)
posted by kindall at 11:16 PM on March 23, 2009

See this frowsy "cratur"
Pah! it's Struwwelpeter
On his fingers rusty,
On his two-head musty,
Scissors seldom come;
Lets his talons grow a year
Do any loathe him? Some!
They hail him "Modern satyr -
Disgusting Struwwelpeter."

Struwwelpeter, translated by Mark Twain
posted by kisch mokusch at 11:19 PM on March 23, 2009

From the very creepy Night of the Hunter:

The execution is carried out and the kids in town tease John and Pearl about the death of their father by singing a grisly nursery rhyme..

"Hing, hang, hung...see what the hangman done. Hung, hang, hing...see the robber swing...

From Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte:

Long after you’ve watched the movie you’ll be haunted by the soundtrack, which was composed by the legendary Frank DeVol and features the title song, sung by a children’s chorus to give it the feel of a twisted nursery rhyme: “Chop chop, sweet Charlotte/Chop chop till he's dead/Chop chop, sweet Charlotte/Chop off his hand and head.” Yikes.
posted by marsha56 at 11:20 PM on March 23, 2009

If you were willing to memorize it, seems like this would be pretty good:

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.
B is for Basil assaulted by bears.
C is for Clara who wasted away.
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh.
E is for Ernest who choked on a peach.
F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech.
...and so on...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:36 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

According to Wikipedia, Risseldy, Rosseldy (American version of Wee Cooper O'Fife) is the song sung by children in The Birds.
posted by marsha56 at 11:37 PM on March 23, 2009

kindall beat me to "Oranges and Lemons" -- it seems cute enough, then it's all TIME TO FACE YOUR MORTALITY, CHILDREN
posted by scody at 11:47 PM on March 23, 2009

Haven't seen this one, but wiki says the following about the film Identity:

(I shrunk the text below due to SPOILERS)

Through flashbacks Timmy is shown to have killed or orchestrated the deaths of almost everyone. The homicidal Timmy personality dominates Rivers. As Timmy kills Paris, Rivers begins to strangle Malick. The transport truck crashes on the road and Timmy utters a nursery rhyme Rivers and Ed has previously spoken: "While I was walking up the stairs, I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. I wish, I wish he'd go away."
posted by marsha56 at 12:05 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the ugliness of this page from TV Tropes, but it has lots of examples.
posted by marsha56 at 12:34 AM on March 24, 2009

The Decembrists' Shankill Butchers is a lullabye about the -- you guessed it -- Shankill Butchers, an Irish group whose "chief notoriety came from late-night abduction, torture and killings (by throat slashing) of random members of the Roman Catholic community."
posted by wandering steve at 1:06 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

The lines from Identity are much older than that. They're from the poem Antigonish by Hughes Mearns.
posted by xchmp at 1:14 AM on March 24, 2009

I remember my dad had a book of dark nursery rhymes for kids but can't remember the name of it. I can remember the first poem though:

"Making toast by the fireside,
Nurse fell in the grate and died.
What makes the matter ten times worse,
The toast was burnt along with the nurse."
posted by stenoboy at 1:42 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Up stairs and down stairs in his night-gown,
Tapping at the window, scratching at the lock,
"Are the children in their bed, for it's past eight o'clock?"

Scared the bejebus out of me we I was young.
posted by Neiltupper at 3:15 AM on March 24, 2009

Certainly here in the UK many of the best known nursery rhymes are pretty creepy: "Three Blind Mice" for example. This was really brought home to me after discovering"Nursery Rhymes" by Portuguese artist Paula Rego.
posted by rongorongo at 4:08 AM on March 24, 2009

And Ring-around-the-rosie can be creepy, but only when you know what it's about and it's done right.

I'm not sure what you think this is about, but it is not about the Black Plague.
posted by Wolof at 4:31 AM on March 24, 2009

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
posted by watercarrier at 5:15 AM on March 24, 2009

"Hitler, Hitler, I've been thinking
What in the world have you been drinking?
Smells like whiskey, tastes like wine,
Oh my gosh, it's iodine."


"Minnie Minnihaha went to see her Papa,
Papa died. Minnie cried,
Minnie had a new born baby.
Stuck it in the bathtub to see if it could swim.
Drank a gallon of water, ate a bar of soap.
In come the Doctor, in came the nurse,
in came the lady with the alligator purse.
Out went the doctor, out went the nurse.
Out went the lady with an alligator purse."


"Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine,
The monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line.
The lion choked, the monkey croaked,
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat,
Clap-Clap! Clap-Clap!"

"Oh little enemy come out and fight with me
bring your bee-bee gun and we'll have so much fun
I'll shoot your eye out and let you bleed to death
And we'll be enemies, oh, one, two, three, four... "


These are the jump rope rhymes I remember; Googling the phrase "jump rope rhymes" (or "clapping games") may help you turn up more.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:30 AM on March 24, 2009

Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
posted by watercarrier at 6:13 AM on March 24, 2009

Little Willie, mean as hell,
Pushed his sister in a well.
Mother said, while drawing water,
"My, it's hard to raise a daughter."
posted by grumblebee at 6:25 AM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, and by the by, Ring Around the Rosie is much less creepy and far more mundane than we'd all like to believe.

Snopes - The Internet Buzzkill.
posted by awenner at 7:03 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Caveat: I made this ditty about Charles William Manson up. However, I made it up in elementary school, and we really did jump rope to it. It's a counting rhyme (where each number corresponds to you jumping the rope) based on the fact no one knows how many people, if any, Manson actually murdered himself. Yes, I was a morbid child.

First name Charles, second name Will,
How many people did Manson Kill?
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven...
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:04 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not entirely sure that these are what you're looking for, but they always creeped me out, and we sang them as children.

The Slithery Dee, he came from the sea,
He ate all the others but didn't eat me.
The Slithery Dee, he came from the sea,
He ate all the others but he didn't eat - *slurp*
-Shel Silverstein

Don't ever laugh as a hearse goes by
For you may be the next to die.
They wrap you up in a big white sheet
From your head down to your feet.
They put you in a big black box
And cover you up with dirt and rocks.
All goes well for about a week
Then your coffin starts to leak.
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle in your snout.
They eat your eyes, they eat your nose,
They eat the jelly between your toes.
A big green worm with rolling eyes
Crawls in your stomach and out your eyes
Your stomach turns a slimy green
And pus pours out like whipping cream.
You spread it on a slice of bread,
And that's what you eat when you are dead.
posted by sephira at 7:10 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you seen the ghost of john?
Long white bones and the rest all gone,
Ooh, ooh, wouldn't it be chilly with no skin on?

-attributed to Martha Grubb
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:11 AM on March 24, 2009

Bob was swimming in the bay,
when a shark who passed that way,
punctured him in seven places,
and he made such funny faces.

When Baby's screams grew hard to bear,
I popped him in the Fridgidaire,
My wife said, "Dear, I'm so unhappy,
Our darling's now completely frappé

This, along with the one about nurse falling into the
fire and dying, and a bunch of others, are by Harry Graham.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2009

Any of the poems from the "kid's book" Slovenly Peter!!!!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:06 AM on March 24, 2009

(Oh, beware: racist tropes within. But still, there are some gems, like The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:08 AM on March 24, 2009

A girl I knew in high school was taught this by her mom:
Here's the little piggy,
See his snout,
Slit him open,
And guts fall out.

With hand gestures similar to the "church and the steeple" rhyme.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:24 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

We learned lots of songs at a Girl Scout camp I went to that were all about death and dying, such as:

McKinney is dead and McCormick don't know it
McCormick is dead and McKinney don't know it
They both are dead and lying in bed
And neither one knows that the other one's dead


Out on the windswept desert
Where nature knows no man
A buffalo spied his brother
A-lyin' in the sand
Said the buffalo to his brother
"What makes you lie that way?"
But the buffalo did not answer.
He's been dead since way last May.


Although these next two might be creepier in tone than the previous two:

There was an old woman all skin and bones,
She lived down by the old graveyard,
One night she thought she'd take a walk,
She walked down by the old graveyard,
She say the bones a-lying around,
She went to the closet to get a broom,
She opened the door and...

The classic: In the Dark, Dark Woods

posted by joan cusack the second at 11:22 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, what about Little Bunny Foo Foo? It's more cartoonishly goofy than actually creepy, but it does involve mass murder of field mice.
posted by scody at 12:07 PM on March 24, 2009

I just thought of this other one...another tonally normal, but content-wise creepy rhyme:

There are suitors at my door, oh Alaya Bakia.
Six or eight or maybe more, oh Alaya Bakia.
And my father wants me wed, oh Alaya Bakia.
Or at least that's what he said, oh Alaya Bakia.

Oh lay oh la, oh Alaya Bakia!
Oh lay oh la, oh Alaya Bakia!
Oh lay oh la, oh Alaya Bakia!
Oh lay oh la, oh Alaya Bakia!

And I told him that I will, oh Alaya Bakia
When the river runs uphill, oh Alaya Bakia
And the fish begin to fly, oh Alaya Bakia
Or the day before I die, oh Alaya Bakia.


And my father said to me, oh Alaya Bakia,
"You will wed and you will see, oh Alaya Bakia.
All your dreams they will come true, oh Alaya Bakia.
In a paradise for two, oh Alaya Bakia."


I was married just today, oh Alaya Bakia
And the river runs that way, oh Alaya Bakia
And the fish began to fly, oh Alaya Bakia.
So tomorrow I must die, oh Alaya Bakia.

posted by joan cusack the second at 12:26 PM on March 24, 2009

Willy, a helpful boy but not well sighted,
Built a fireplace fire and self-ignited;
Now, with the flames dying down and the room growing chilly,
Would someone please re-light Willy?
posted by markcmyers at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2009

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
Should I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
posted by maggieb at 2:15 PM on March 24, 2009

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I don't know why she swallowed a fly.
Perhaps she'll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider
that wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she'll die....

posted by NikitaNikita at 9:51 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, "Oh My Darlin' Clementine" is a little morbid, and has some weird/morbid versions using the tune, I think.

(best lyrics link I could find is here too. Beware of the MIDI!)
posted by NikitaNikita at 9:57 PM on March 24, 2009

The kids in Playing Beatie Bow (quite a famous Australian movie although it's dated terribly, based on a children's book that's still taught in schools here) had a little sing-song rhyme that was quite pivotal to the plot. It scared the hell out of me when I was young. I can't dig it up, but from memory it was something along the lines of:

'Oh Mudda, oh Mudda,
what's that, what's that?
A tap at the window,
A dog at the door.
Oh Mudda, oh Mudda
what's that, what's that?
It's Beatie Bow,
Risen from the dead!'
posted by Emilyisnow at 5:05 AM on March 25, 2009

This one's both a rhyme and a tongue twister, and satisfies the creepy quotient by virtue of its subject: waiting to die on death row.

What a to-do to die today at a minute or two to two
A distinctly difficult thing to say but harder still to do
For they'll beat a tattoo at twenty to two
With a rat-a-ta-tat-a-ta-tat-a-ta-too
And the dragon will come when he hears the drum
At a minute or two to two today
At a minute or two to two
posted by Phoenix Ash at 10:28 PM on March 25, 2009

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