“Eenie Meenie Minie Mo (Counting Rhyme)”


"Eenie meenie minie mo, Catch a (nigger/tiger) by the toe, If he hollers, let him go, Eenie meenie minie mo."


A child's counting-out rhyme, used e.g. for choosing who is "it" in a game of tag. I remember, at about age ten, trying to convince other children that this was *not* random and that the counter could always pick who was "it" using this scheme. I suppose I was fortunate that they didn't listen, or I'd have been "it" every time.

More interesting is the fact that we (middle-class kids in Minnesota in about 1970) gave the second line as "Catch a tiger by the toe," compared to the seemingly-older version involving catching a "nigger." Did we modify it to "tiger" because none of us knew the meaning of the racial slur, or did our parents firmly straighten us (or our older classmates, who taught us the rhyme) out? I've no clue.

Simpson and Roud's _Dictionary of English Folklore_ (article on Counting Rymes) suggests that the British original was "chicken" or "tinker," with "beggar" also used. This seems reasonable in context, but I've yet to encounter any of these forms in real life.

It may seem odd to include this in a Ballad Index; it certainly isn't a ballad -- but it is a song, and clearly of the folk variety.

Linscott lists this among three Counting Out Rymes, with the other two being related to each other but not evidently related to this. I have not seen the others elsewhere. - RBW

Cross references


  1. Linscott, p. 5, [no title] (1 text, the second of three "counting out" rhymes)
  2. Leather, pp. 128-129, "Counting-out rhymes" (sundry short texts, not quite the same as the American versions but too close to separate)
  3. MHenry-Appalachians, p. 238, (no title) (2 variants of a short text); p. 240, (no title) (amother variant, quite distinct, with all nonsense words); p. 242 (no title) (another very strange variant, but too short to classify elsewhere)
  4. Roud #13610
  5. BI, Lins005


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1912 (Leather); Simpson and Roud report an 1885 collection in Canada
Keywords: nonballad
Found in: US(MW,NE) Britain(England(West))