To where do your babies trot-trot?
November 22, 2018 1:27 PM   Subscribe

My family is doing the trot-trot rhyme with my neice at our Thanksgiving party, the one that starts, "Trot-trot to Boston, trot-trot to Lynn…" Do people not from Massachusetts do this? If so, do you trot-trot to other towns?

For the record, the full version of the rhyme that my family tells, the variation I grew up on, goes like so:
Trot-trot to Boston
Trot-trot to Lynn
Trot-trot over the bridge
But don't fall in!
This is accompanied by much bouncing of the baby.

Where do you live? Do you tell this rhyme? Do you trot-trot to other places? The internet attests to a few variations, but a cursory search indicates that they're all pretty Massachusetts-heavy. I would love to know what your family does.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Work & Money (59 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
They could be places in Massachusetts - or places in the Wash (eastern England): Boston, Lincolnshire (aka the original Boston) and King's Lynn, Norfolk are quite close to each other - and traditionally, anyone travelling between the two would have crossed many bridges over the fens and canals of the area.
posted by jb at 1:39 PM on November 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Aww, I'm Canadian and I used to play this with my daughter when she was a baby! I never modified the lyrics though.
posted by DTMFA at 1:52 PM on November 22, 2018

"Trot-trot to Boston (bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce)
Trot-trot to Lynn (bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce)
Be careful little child's name (bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce)
You might fall IN!" (bounce-bounce-bounce-open legs and drop baby into the gap)

I was born and raised in English Montreal, learned the rhyme from a nursery rhyme book around when first child was born in the eighties.

Worth noting that King's Lynn in the UK is twenty six miles from Boston, Lincolnshire. King's Lynn was until recently (1537) known as Bishop's Lynn but is known to its residents simply as Lynn.

To prolong the game also try "This is the Way the Farmers' Ride". Another version of the the bounce the baby on the lap and then drop game is called "Little Hole, Big Hole" but I don't know that one.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:52 PM on November 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Born in 617 area code; our standards are: out baby that you don't fall in
Town...don't fall down
Dover...don't fall over

And then many other improvised variations.
posted by nonane at 1:55 PM on November 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

do you trot-trot to other towns?

Babies have been riding cock horses (or more recently, fine horses) to Banbury Cross for more than 200 years and I don't think people rename Banbury even though I suspect very few people outside southwest England reciting this nursery rhyme have any idea where Banbury is. I assume Boston follows this convention too.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 PM on November 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Both sides of my family have been in the western U.S. for many generations. I have never heard of this; perhaps it is only common in former English colonies?
posted by D.C. at 2:22 PM on November 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

A vote for Boston/Lynn here. My family hails from upstate NY but now we've certainly brought it out to the west coast.
posted by montag2k at 2:28 PM on November 22, 2018

In Missouri, when my kids were small during the eighties, I used a similar rhyme. Don't know where I got it -- might have made it up:

Well, you dance around the town,
Dance around the town,
Dance around the town--

And fly over land and sea!

The first three repetitious lines are accompanied by the trotting activity, while during the last line you hold the child up horizontally over your head, which always results in much laughter and arms and legs akimbo.
posted by Agave at 2:34 PM on November 22, 2018

I have never heard this before! Born and raised in Illinois, living in California for the past 15+ years. Now I want to hear more of these!
posted by erst at 2:41 PM on November 22, 2018

I'm from Seattle and I do a version of this, rhyming Lynn with "watch out baby, don't fall in". I usually switch which knee the baby is bouncing on each line, as foreshadowing for when they "fall" into the middle. I think I learned it at a special storytime series that Seattle Public Library puts on for parents and babies. I have also learned a lot of rhymes from printed collections, but not motions for those ones. It never occurred to me to change the place names, nor even to wonder what places were being referred to.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:58 PM on November 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Native Philadelphian raised by native Philadelphians who were raised by I think naive Philadelphians (we came from Ireland at some point...).

I’ve never heard of this baby game. There might be some horsey rhymes that go with bouncing a baby but nothing related to going places beyond “up” and “down”. Am checking in with a Mass. native friend but this may be a very regional thing.
posted by kellygrape at 3:42 PM on November 22, 2018

Grew up in New York (Long Island) and ours was:

Trot trot to London,
Trot trot to France,
Trot trot home again-
But don't fall in!

Not sure where I first heard this version, so I'm pretty sure it's not regional and probably just a quirk of my family and/or friends. I will say, it makes WAY MORE SENSE now that I know that "Lynn" was the original rhyme for "fall in"!
posted by DeadliestQuack at 3:43 PM on November 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was my FAVORITE game. Except it goes like this:
Trip trip to London
Trip trip to Lynn
Better watch out or you’ll fall IN

then the lap opens and you fall down.

I’m not sure which side of my family it came from but my dad is from Ireland and I grew up on Long Island.
posted by bleep at 3:44 PM on November 22, 2018

My New Yorker sister-in-law is doing this with my son at this very moment, and is singing it with Boston and Lynn.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:44 PM on November 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

My family is from Virginia and my mom taught me this in the late 70's when she was young, she is from Virginia and has never lived in New England. I learned it as "ride a horse to Boston, ride a horse to Lynn, careful little [kids name] that you don't fall in! [open lap]".
posted by skewed at 3:58 PM on November 22, 2018

I grew up in Syracuse, NY, and spent many years in Seattle. I never heard this rhyme until my wife (born and raised in a Boston suburb, grand-daughter of deep Brookliners) started bouncing our son on her lap.
posted by baseballpajamas at 5:05 PM on November 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I grew up in the Midwest. My maternal grandma played this with us. She grew up in Pittsburgh. Our rhyme was a little...darker.

Trot trot to Boston
To buy a loaf of bread
Trot trot home again
The old horse is dead!

Same motions as Jane the Brown mentions above.
posted by donnagirl at 5:07 PM on November 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

The first version I can find in Google Books is from 1878 and goes "Trot, trot to Boston, trot, trot to Lynn; trot, trot to Salem, and trot home again." Looking at a map I think the inclusion of Salem definitely refers to Massachusetts and not England. Not sure how to search for versions that don't reference Boston, though.
posted by john hadron collider at 5:13 PM on November 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't know that version, we did this:

"[child's name] goes a walking, a walking, a walking and then she goes a trotting a trotting a trotting and then she goes a gallop a gallop a gallop and and then she falls off! "

(the holder is bouncing the child ever faster by moving knees one by one and for the last bit lifts the c hild up them up, moves legs apart and pretends to drop them through the gap)
posted by kitten magic at 5:14 PM on November 22, 2018

Masshole, parents both grew up in the City of Boston. We had:

Take a ride to Boston
Take a ride to Lynn
Watch out baby
That you don’t fall in! (pretend to drop baby)
posted by wellred at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2018

From the east coast of Canada, we bounced our little kids on our knees, saying:
Riding a horse to London
To buy a loaf of bread
Riding home again
Tumble into bed!
posted by lemonpearl at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2018

(Kind of unrelated but I just found out that Lynn is not a famous city in England at all. It's not even in England. My mind is blown.)
posted by bleep at 5:42 PM on November 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Grew up in Indiana, and learned this version from my grandfather when I was a kid (approx. 40 years ago):

Riding a horsey
Riding to town
Riding that horsey
Don't fall DOWN!!!!
posted by headspace at 5:43 PM on November 22, 2018

Lifelong Bostonian.

It goes:

Trot trot to Boston
Trot trot to Lynn
Watch out little one
Or you'll fall in!

Maybe this is a New England thing?
posted by floweredfish at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

From Eastern Canada, lived a long time in Ontario, have never heard anything like this.

We bounced on a knee but just called it 'horsey' and there was no song attached.
posted by EarnestDeer at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2018

I love you all. Surprised by how little uniformity there is! Seems like there's clearly some regionality, but it's definitely not totally confined to Massachusetts. Surprised as well by how durable "Lynn" is, all things considered. The OG 1878 version might actually be my favorite of all, though I'm still quite partial to my own family's, naturally.

My family also drops the baby through the legs at the end! Babies everywhere agree that that's the best part of the game.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:21 PM on November 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also born in 617 and I know the Jane the Brown version (where you use the kid's name and pretend to drop them). Somehow never occurred to me that this was a hyperlocal nursery rhyme.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 PM on November 22, 2018

We did it completely differently, (but still bouncing on knees).

"This is the way the farmers ride: plop plop plop.
This is the way the ladies ride: trot trot trot
This is the way the gentlemen ride: canter canter canter

(Obviously increasing the bouncing to a frenzy and getting tons of giggles and squeals).

East Coast Jersey Girl, lifelong.
posted by annieb at 6:55 PM on November 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Storytime at the library in Garner, NC:

Ride a horse to Boston
Ride a horse to Lynn
Keep on riding, baby -
Don't fall IN!
posted by Jeanne at 7:27 PM on November 22, 2018

Brookline born, 1970:

Trot, Trot, to Boston!
Trot trot to Lynn!
Watch out, baby,
Or you might fall in!
posted by clseace at 7:33 PM on November 22, 2018

I love this question! I have wondered about trot trot!

I’m a native of western Mass, and the child of a western Mass native who did this rhyme:

Trot trot to Boston
To buy a loaf of bread

[frantic increase in bouncing speed]
Gallop gallop home again
The old horse is dead

posted by bluedaisy at 7:53 PM on November 22, 2018

I have absolutely never observed or even heard of this despite having many east-coast friends and quite a few specifically-from-MA friends (of ranging ages) and now I am fascinated
posted by halation at 8:05 PM on November 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

West coast born and bred, from the 1800s. Never heard of this rhyme, but I am absolutely remembering this, as it’s adorable.
posted by umwhat at 8:11 PM on November 22, 2018

I am a transplant to Boston, and the version I was taught by a local native when we had a baby continues to charm me:

Ride a horse to Boston,
Ride a horse to Lynn,
Ride a horse to Watertown,
You're gonna fall in!

At which point of course they do.

Kind of surprised no one else's versions above have Watertown; I thought it was essential.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 9:11 PM on November 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

learned from my grandmother, who was born and raised in Seattle:

Trot trot to Boston
To buy a loaf of bread
Trot trot home again
Old Trot's dead!

(bounce child on knees for the first three lines, holding both hands, slow the bounce on the last line, and flop them backwards on "dead")
posted by karayel at 12:47 AM on November 23, 2018

she also had a (slightly sexist!) version of annieb's one, which went:

this is the way the old lady goes to the market: trot trot trot (at a slow plod)
this is the way the old man goes to the market: trot trot trot (at increased tempo)
this is the way the old FARMER (said with anticipatory emphasis) goes to the market: gallopy gallopy gallopy gallopy! (rapid and rambunctious bouncing, to the accompaniment of happy shrieks from toddler)
posted by karayel at 12:53 AM on November 23, 2018

Born and raised in central NC by one parent from upstate NY and one from Baltimore. Have never heard any of these rhymes. Am fascinated.
posted by snowmentality at 1:59 AM on November 23, 2018

My Louisville, KY family's version was similar to headspace's Indiana version:

Ride a little horsey
Go to town
Watch out little girl/boy
You'll fall DOWN!
posted by natabat at 3:53 AM on November 23, 2018

My family's version (Michigan):

Trot trot to Boston
To buy a fat pig
Home again, Home again
Jiggity jig!
posted by Stewriffic at 4:13 AM on November 23, 2018

Amazingly I grew up in CT (with several generations of family) and never heard of this. We sing the Lone Ranger Theme when there is a baby to be bounced on a lap. (Not the William Tell Overture because “Hi-ho Silver” is in there.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:21 AM on November 23, 2018

I grew up in Maine and learned it as:

Ride away to Boston
Ride away to Lynn
Ride across the river
But don't fall IN! (drop baby through legs, hilarity ensues)

I have now passed that down to my kid, and we live in MA.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:42 AM on November 23, 2018

Our au pair from northern Germany bounced our kiddies to this:
Hoppe, hoppe Reiter.
Wenn er fällt, dann schreit er.
Fällt er in den Graben,
fressen ihn die Raben.
Fällt er in den Sumpf,
macht der Reiter plumps.
Fällt er in das grunen Gras
Macht er sich die Hosen nass!

Maybe a German Mefite can fix this for me but roughly: hop, hop rider, if he falls in the ditch the ravens eat him(!). If he falls in the swamp he goes splash. If he falls in the green grass he wets his pants. (Drops through the legs)
Now that I write that out... it sounds better in German!
posted by evilmomlady at 4:44 AM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

Trot trot to Boston to buy a loaf of bread,
Home again, home again,
The old horse is pooped! (Here you stretch out your leg and slide the child down.)
posted by jgirl at 5:25 AM on November 23, 2018

I love that you asked this, because I’ve wondered myself! Many-th generation MA native here, grew up with and do with my kids the “Trot Trot to Boston, trot trot to Lynn, better watch out or you’ll fall innnnn!” version. I knew it as the MA places. My daughter’s MA native nanny did the same version as well. My Californian spouse had never heard this rhyme, nor has his family.
posted by john_snow at 6:02 AM on November 23, 2018

! Seems like there's clearly some regionality, but it's definitely not totally confined to Massachusetts. Surprised as well by how durable "Lynn" is, all things considered.

There's been a lot of interaction with literary culture in the form of nursery rhyme books, not to mention teacher/nurserymaid/governess training, which is one of the ways such childhood folklore is passed. I did not grow up with this at all (despite my Rhode Island grandparentage) and had never heard it before this thread, but a quick pass through some sources shows it appearing in children's literature and collections of stories and songs for children at least as early as the 1870s. The search turns up both the "loaf of bread/dead" versions and a small number of versions with an added town name in the 3rd line, like Salem. Here's a temperance version from 1874, clearly never actually intended for children but a pathetic poem about a drunken father that uses nursery rhymes as a maudlin juxtaposition - still, it shows that the rhyme was in circulation before this poem was composed as the author knew it could be recognized.

Here is a Mudcat thread with other baby-bouncing rhymes. It turns up from recent collections in a folklore archive: here's one with some discussion of regionality and here's another. This blog post suggests a way of seeing it as part of a larger, cross-cultural genre of "Trotting rhymes" within the baby-bouncing rhyme category.

Even the city names don't change much, that's not too surprising in the context of folklore. Cultural products are often suprisingly stable even when a particular, localized word or name has little meaning in another context. Those memes travel through society often relatively intact, because they fit the rhyme and meter and because "that's how I learned it" - they are transmitted and experienced as unitary items, not interchangeable parts, and only occasionally in the process of transmission does a culture bearer creatively embroider, alter, or extend them. And even when that happens, those new versions become their own kind of canon, rather than changing with each person and generation. These forms remain strikingly stable despite small changes - this is true for vernacular song, sayings, rhymes, superstitions, etc. So it doesn't always matter if "Lynn" has deep personal meaning for someone from the Boston area but not for children in their care who have never been to Boston or Lynn and have no sense of the place. That's just how the rhyme goes, and that's how the children will remember and repeat it - as a whole. Just as in the "Banbury Cross" example, and a hundred others, the names become part of an imagined geography that doesn't need to be tethered to the real world.
posted by Miko at 6:06 AM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

The version I know, from my ex in laws (Canadians), goes like this:

Smoooooth roooooaaad (mild bouncing)
Bumpy roooooaaad (frenzied bouncing)
Hole in the road! (kid falls through legs)

The fun part comes from delaying and/or abrupt transition from bumpy to holey road.
posted by methroach at 6:41 AM on November 23, 2018

Ours (learned from Lynn-born mother) is:

On the way to Boston
On the way to Lynn
On the way to (any other two-syllable location)
(Baby's name) fell in.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:05 AM on November 23, 2018

Can confirm, grew up in town next to Lynn, MA, b. 1981.

*bouncing baby on knees*
Trot trot to boston
Trot trot to Lynn
Watch out baby
You might fall in!
*falls baby between knees*
posted by danapiper at 7:20 AM on November 23, 2018

We're from about an hour outside of Boston and we learned it like this:

Bumpity bump to Boston
Bumpity bump to Lynn
Bumpity bump to OHIO (?????)
Watch out you don't fall innnnnn!

So weird!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:28 AM on November 23, 2018

My mum is American and my dad is British; neither had any relation to Massachusetts or New England. This is how my mum sang it:

Trot trot to Boston town
Trot trot to Lynn
Be careful when you get there
That you don’t fall in!

Given my half English background I always assumed it referred to the English towns. However, I spent much of my childhood in the Seattle area I’m wondering if it’s something we picked up from the children’s programme at the King County Library! Funny there are so many Seattlites with memories of this.

I’m just about to give birth to our first child, so thanks for reminding me this exists. I see many hours of bouncing in our future. (Maybe I’ll make up some new verses with London place names or tube stops for our tiny Londoner. “Trot trot to Camden Town, trot trot to Bank, trot trot to Peckham for Campari at Frank’s...”)
posted by Concordia at 7:38 AM on November 23, 2018

The two English towns make most sense to me - that's a long travelled route around the Wash, where you would have lots of opportunity to fall in - until it was drained it used to be fenland - and King John managed to lose his Crown Jewels around there. (Cos you know, nursery rhymes have to have a historical precedent.)

All that said, I grew up in south Lincolnshire and I've never heard this at home.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 8:38 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have never heard this one! My mom did these two with me, and they have instantly won me over with basically every small child I have ever met:

1) Hold the child's legs, and criss-cross them as you say the rhyme in rhythm. At "jumped" you lift the child in the air.

LEG over LEG over the DOG went to DOver
He CAME to a STILE and he JUMPED right over

2) Bounce the child on your lap while you say the rhyme, slowly and then faster with each stanza. Expect giggles at the end

This is the way the lady rides,
This is the way the gentleman rides, gal-lop, gal-lop, gal-lop
This is the way [child name] rides, gallopgallopgallop, gallopgallopgallop
posted by radioamy at 9:51 AM on November 23, 2018

My parents grew up outside Boston. This is the version we grew up on, and continued with our own children:

Trot trot to Boston
Trot trot to Lynn
Watch out little boys and girls
You don't fall in!

Then pretend to drop through the legs!
posted by poppunkcat at 10:09 AM on November 23, 2018

I grew up in Texas and learned it as:

(bouncing the whole time)
Here comes [kid's name]
Riding into town
Everybody watch [him/her]
Is s/he gonna fall down?
(then pretend drop through the legs)
posted by acridrabbit at 11:41 AM on November 23, 2018


Native Philadelphian too. I remember one of my great Aunts etal bouncing family babies to a rhyme. I can't remember it all, but was "bounce, bounce, bounce.....something something to Germantown, bounce down the line to Nicetown, bounce bounce bounce????, but it ended with bouncing into Lit Brothers.

Any bells ringing with anyone?

edit: Come to think of it, it could have been a Lit Bros ad campaign.
posted by james33 at 4:36 AM on November 24, 2018

Native Bay Area Californian born to native Bay Area Californians; this was not a thing in my area growing up, and I babysat a fair number of kids of an appropriate age in high school.

Now I live in Boston and have many local parent friends and none of them have done this in my presence with their kids, even the ones who grew up locally. I'll have to ask!
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:16 AM on November 24, 2018

Ok, wow, they do this in Russia, too. But it's not traveling to towns, it's along a smooth road (bounce on two legs simultaneously), then a bumpy road (alternate which knee goes up), and then a hole (fall through the legs). My googling found a guy demo'ing (though not very well, imo) with his cat lol
posted by theRussian at 1:40 PM on November 24, 2018

Illinois here (as a baby and now as a mom); we do:

Wanna go to Boston?
Wanna go to Lynn?
Look out, little girl,
Or you might ... fall ... in!

My mom was born in Connecticut and her mom in Boston so it may have come down to us that way. We do have a family habit of, after the first few rounds, we start inserting extra lines after Boston, but the point of them is to NOT rhyme and to sound very silly, so the baby anticipates hearing "Lynn" for longer and longer and gets gigglier and gigglier and eventually starts shouting "WYNN! WYNN!" So like

Wanna go to Boston?
Wanna go to ... Kankakee?
Wanna go to ... Oconomowoc?
Wanna go to ... Chillicothe?
Wanna go to ... Saskatoon?
Oh, all right -- Wanna go to Lynn?
Look out, little girl,
Or you might ... fall ... in!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:07 PM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Grew up in Maine (though my mother is from the outskirts of Boston), with the Jane the Brown version, including the child's name. Am very startled to learn this is not universal.
posted by dizziest at 6:22 PM on November 25, 2018

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