“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”, which can be spelled a number of ways, is a children’s counting rhyme, used to select a person to be “it” for games (such as tag) and similar purposes such as counting out a child who has to be excluded from a group of children as part of a playground game. It is one of a large group of similar ‘counting-out rhymes’ where the child pointed-to by the chanter on the last syllable is ‘counted out’. The rhyme has existed in various forms since well before 1820, and is common in many languages with similar-sounding nonsense syllables.
Since many similar counting rhymes existed earlier, it is difficult to ascertain this rhyme’s exact origin.
A common modern version is:
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
There are many common variations, such as replacing tiger with “piggy”, “nigger” (when the word was still in common use), “tinker”, “tigger”, “chicken”, “monkey”, “baby”, “spider”, “teacher”, or a two-syllable name; and changing the verb in the third line to “screams”, “wiggles”, “squeals” or another verb. The last two lines may be changed to “if he hollers, let him pay, fifty dollars every day.”
Sometimes additional lines are added at the end of the rhyme to draw out or manipulate the selection process or make it seem less predetermined, such as:
My mother told me/says to pick the very best one, and that is Y-O-U
The first record of a similar rhyme is from about 1815, when children in the United States city of New York are said to have repeated the rhyme:
Hana, man, mona, mike;
Barcelona, bona, strike;
Hare, ware, frown, vanac;
Harrico, warico, we wo, wac.
The “Hana, man” was found by Henry Bolton in the US, Ireland and Scotland in the 1880s but was unknown in England until later in the century. Bolton also found a similar rhyme in German:
Ene, tene, mone, mei,Pastor, lone, bone, strei,Ene, fune, herke, berke,Wer? Wie? Wo? Was?
Variations of this rhyme, with the nonsense/counting first line have been collected since the 1820s, such as this Scottish one ..
Hickery Pickery, pease sconWhere will this young man gang?He’ll go east, he’ll go west,he’ll go to the crow’s nest.Hickery Pickery, Hickery Pickery
More recognizable as a variation, which even includes the ‘toe’ and ‘olla’ from Kipling’s version is
Eenie, Meenie, Tipsy, toe;Olla bolla Domino,Okka, Pokka dominocha,Hy! Pon! Tush!
This was one of many variants of “counting out rhymes” collected by Bolton in 1888.
A Cornish version collected in 1882 runs:
Ena, mena, mona, mite,Bascalora, bora, bite,Hugga, bucca, bau,Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.Stick, stock, stone dead — OUT.
ubi eni mana bou,baji neki baji thou,elim tilim latim gou.
The rhyme inspired the song “Eena Meena Deeka” in the 1957 Bollywood film Aasha.
There are innumerable scenes in books, films, plays, cartoons and video games, as well as lyrics from many songs, in which “Eeny meeny …” or a variant is used by a character who is making a choice, either for serious or comic effect. Notably, the rhyme has been used by killers to choose victims in several films, including the 1994 films Pulp Fictionand Natural Born Killers; and the 2003 film Elephant
“ Eenie Meenie” is a song by Jeffrey Osborne on self-titled 1982 album that included popular song “On the Wings of Love.”
Eenie Meenie Records is a Los Angeles-based music record label.
Danish pop group Toy-Box released the single “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo” in 1999 from their first album “Fantastic.”