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Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme Paperback – Import, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New Ed edition (2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862077924
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862077928
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,518,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on December 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My sister gave me this book as a Christmas present and I have been devouring it ever since. It is a light and breezy examination of nursery rhymes and where they come from. Someone earlier criticized the author for going off on tangents that had nothing to do with the rhyme in question, and I disagree with this. I think that he was providing a historical context for the rhymes that served to deepen one's understanding of how they came into being, not padding the book with useless information. I have found it to be a fascinating read, and the people with whom I have shared some of the revelations gleaned from it (Little Jack Horner is about a land thief! Mary, Mary, quite contrary is about Bloody Mary!) have also been intrigued. "Heavy Words Lightly Thrown" is a clever and witty diversion that will change the way you look at nursery rhymes -- and make you feel like a smarty-pants in the process. An absolute must for any trivia buffs out there.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By SailorLawyer on September 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Nowhere are false etymologies more rampant than in the genre of nursery rhyme interpretation. Chris Roberts, using meticulous scholarly methodology, has traced the rhythms of our childhoods to their true origins, and does so with captivating pizzazz. He has performed the dusty scholarship so that we don't have to, and often he finds that our favorite nonsense rhymes are just...nonsense. Wonderful book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By dephal VINE VOICE on November 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book makes for fun and light reading, perfect for those bits and pieces of time when you're waiting for an appointment. The author's approach is interesting and engaging, and the book helpfully provides a glossary to help non-Brits understand the Britishisms. Unfortunately, the book also left me wanting more information in several places, and sometimes the author sacrifices data in favor of humor (and he has an annoying obsession with football). Still, a painless way to learn about common nursery rhymes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By CB on August 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Those looking for an insightful peek into the origins of those enigmatic nursery rhymes will probably not be disappointed by Chris Roberts' Heavy Words Thrown Lightly: The Reason Behind the Rhyme. Taking many of the best (and lesser) known nursery rhymes, Roberts puts them in historical context and dissects them (in an entertaining fashion) in order to reveal how these seemingly harmless rhymes often commented on the social and political climates of their day, as well as on subjects less couth. This book's chief failing is that it is sometimes difficult to discern where Roberts' sarcasm and conjecture ends and the actual facts begin, making this book, perhaps, a doubtful resource and more of an entertainment. Worth reading, nonetheless.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David M. Giltinan on May 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book, which explores the origin of some 40 familiar nursery rhymes, alternated between being fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because of the unexpected nuggets of information it contains ('Tweedledum and Tweedledee' was based on a feud between Handel and another composer, Bononcini; 'Banbury Cross' was intended to mock the Puritans; 'Baa-baa black sheep' was an early complaint about taxes; 'Sing a song of sixpence' is about the first two wives of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries). Frustrating because all too often the 'explanation' is little more than the presentation of assorted theories of varying degrees of plausibility, with no resolution provided (though to be fair to the author, this probably reflects a desire not to go beyond the bounds of interpretation acceptable on the basis of current scholarly research).

There is a distinctly English emphasis to the rhymes included in the book, and some (Elsie Marley, London's burning, Turn again Whittington, Remember Remember, Taffy was a Welshman) are likely to be unfamiliar to non-English readers. An interesting feature of the book is that each rhyme is illustrated by one of a panel of 30 artists commissioned for the purpose. As you might expect, the quality of the illustrations is decidedly mixed, ranging from the charming (Celia Biscoe's drawings to accompany 'Jack Be Nimble' and 'Georgy Porgy') to the truly abysmal ('Here we go round the mulberry bush', 'Three Men in a Tub'; both drawings appear to have been done by a manic depressive).

I have no hesitation in saying that you will find much in this book to interest you. I'm equally confident that some of the material will bore or irritate you. A mixed bag, but with much to recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By E. E. Eiber on July 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book depended too much on supposition. Rather than telling us the reason behind the rhyme, too frequently he told us several ways it might have been. This was musing more than fact finding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Judy S. on February 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'm very interested in the origin of nursery rhymes, and was therefore not at all enthralled by this book. Almost from the first page, my enthusiasm began to wane; after a couple chapters I became downright bored. The author demonstrates that he is very knowledgeable, but never quite ties his observations of history directly to the nursery rhyme being discussed. The title is the most interesting line of the book. Sorry to say this was quite a disappointing reading experience for me.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By danielx on August 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In this book, author Chris Roberts considers English language nursery rhymes in terms of their original, historical meanings. He traces some of these rhymes to the Middle Ages, but many others to the Tudor and Stuart monarchies of the 1500s through the early 1700s. In his account, these innocent- seeming rhymes reveal "religious hatred, political subversion, and sexual innuendo." Thus, Humpty Dumpty is said to have been a cannon placed on the wall of a Colchester church. "Georgy Porgy" allegedly refers to the unpopular and portly George IV, and "Baa Baa Black Sheep" was originally a complaint against taxes. "Sing a Song of Sixpence" might refer to Henry VIII, and his first two wives. or maybe not -- and that raises a problem.

For many of the rhymes discussed, the author presents multiple, conflicting interpretations, each of which he supports with conjecture and speculation. This practice calls into question the legitimacy and accuracy of the book.

For example, consider "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary." One possibility is that it is a jibe at Mary, Queen of Scots -- "the pretty maids all in a row" being a reference to the rampant promiscuity at court. Alternatively, the "garden" of the rhyme may be a cemetery full of Protestant martyrs, and the "silver bells and cockle shells" instruments of torture - in which case the Mary actually may be England's Mary Tudor (aka "Bloody Mary"). Or perhaps the "Mary" is the mother of Jesus, and the "cockle shells" were badges worn by religious pilgrims. When a single simple rhyme gives rise to so many discrepant interpretations, clearly the reader can have no confidence in any one of them. Roberts sidesteps the contradictions by proposing that the rhyme "has come to represent either Mary, depending on how it is interpreted.
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