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Comment: This book has already been loved by someone else. It MIGHT have some wear and tear on the edges, have some markings in it, or be an ex-library book. Over-all it is still a good book at a great price! (if it is supposed to contain a CD or access code, that may be missing)
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Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes Paperback – September 29, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Albert Jack’s Red Herrings and White Elephants was a huge international hit and was on the bestsellers list for sixteen months. His second, Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep was another success: selling over 70,000 copies. He is also the author of That's Bollocks! (all the strangest, sickest, funniest and most unforgettable urban legends as told in Jack's inimitable style) and Albert Jack's Ten-Minute Mysteries.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: TarcherPerigee; Original edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399535551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399535550
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter Durward Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is one of two rival British publications about the origins of nursery rhymes that appeared in 2008. I bought this one first, then realized that it would make sense to buy the other, Hey diddle diddle, and compare them. The immediate difference is in the price, this one being the more expensive but covering many more rhymes and doing so in more detail. However, there are some things in Hey diddle diddle that the author of this book missed out.

In this book, the author sometimes failed to establish clearly the origins of some of them, offering conflicting theories and suggesting the one that is likeliest to be true. However, he has no doubt that Humpty Dumpty was originally a cannon that sat in a church tower during the English Civil War. The cannon was very effective at protecting the royalist stronghold of Colchester until one day when the republicans managed to bring down the entire church tower. So Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. The question of the origin of the name is not answered, nor even asked in this book, but the author explains why Humpty Dumpty is now portrayed as an egg; this was the way he was portrayed in Alice through the looking glass, and the image has stuck. The rival publication Hey diddle diddle suggests that Humpty Dumpty was originally a name given to an obese person.

Elsewhere in the book, the author has unearthed plenty of old rhymes and attempts to explain their origins. The text for each rhyme is given in full, which is just as well because I don't recognize a lot of them and even those that I do recognize contain verses that I don't remember.
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What a concept! A book that deconstructs classic nursery rhymes!

Some examples to illustrate:

"Baa, baa black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane."

Edward Longshanks--Edward I. He taxed wool to fund his campaigns and other foreign adventures. 1/3 of the price of each sack went to the king (master), 1/3 to the church (the dame), and none to the actual shepherd (the little boy).

I used to think that "Ring-a-Ring O' Roses" (or, as I learned it, "Ring around the rosey") was about the Black Plague. However, the book notes pretty persuasively that that was unlikely.

"Three Blind Mice"? A number of hypotheses. One of those is a reference to "Bloody" Mary, Queen of England. The three blind mice represented former leaders whom Mary imprisoned and then executed.

Anyhow, a lot of fun exploring the origins of the meaning of many of our favorite nursery tales. . .
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This is a fun reference work. Unlike some other books explaining the origins of nursery rhymes, this one does not go into all kinds of Freudian "adult" explanations (or at least, it doesn't in the ones I have read. I admit to have read only the rhymes I am interested in) and is, therefore, useful if you want to explain the source of a favorite to children and young teen-agers. It also provides alternative possibilities. For the rhyme we were immediately interested in because my wife was using it in her grade school classes, "The Cat and the Fiddle", there were three explanations, which was fun for the kids to select a favorite.
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I've always thought of nursery rhymes as fun and was surprised that this book isn't. On the other hand, I really learned a lot about the origins of rhymes we take for granted. While I've thought of most rhymes as non-sensical and whimsical, many of them had deep meanings or conveyed messages or had some purpose other than to entertain children. The history behind them was enlightening as was the fact that when various ones first appeared many of the people of the period couldn't read so having a message in verse served a greater purpose than it would to us now. Much of the history occurred during unsettled and difficult times when expressing an opinion contrary to the authorities was dangerous where a supposedly silly rhyme could express frustration or derision safely.

Because of the rhyme chosen as the title and the cover art, I really expected a tongue in cheek look at the rhymes' history and more than a little humor. Unfortunately, I found none of that and was a little disappointed that the subject was approached so seriously. The research was prodigious and more than one potential meaning was given if the origin of a rhyme was questionable. I recognized most of the rhymes, probably due to my heritage and age, and enjoyed being reminded of them. I certainly learned a lot and valued the insight, but was hoping for a laugh or two.
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My favorite nursery rhyme from earliest childhood memories. As an adult I had taken a class in children's literature, and Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes (and their hidden meanings) was part of the study. It was an eye opening experience to study these nursery rhymes then. Yet there were demands re: research papers, exams, etc to fulfill the requirements of that course so I did not delve into all of the nursery rhymes as I would have liked. I had promised myself to return to these rhymes in depth when I could do so at my leisure. This book is very good for this purpose. There are explanations of historical facts behind these rhymes, humor of the times, as well as indications of man's inhumanity to man during those yesteryear days. (Shudder!) It is really informative, easy to understand, and answers questions that the reader may have had re: Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. I think I feel a bit more historically informed after having read this book!
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