Ring around the Rosie: A Dissenting View

Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton, who has researched the nursery rhyme's controversial origins for Tournaments Illuminated, offers a rebuttal of a web article linked from SCAtoday.net recently.

The recent post on SCAtoday.net of a website regarding nursery rhyme origins has once again brought up the debate regarding the "true" meaning of "Ring Around the Rosie". The website accepted the view that the rhyme was about the plague, and proceeded to "refute" the claim that it was not by deriving the Middle English origins of a couple of the words in the rhyme, claiming that this was the main objection to the plague explanation.

As some may know, I wrote a TI article on this topic some years ago, based on research done by several individuals, notably folklorist Phillip Hiscock and Ian Munro, a member of the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban, an early hangout of the couple who would go on to create the now-famous snopes.com. Nowhere is the main objection to the rhyme the fact that some words cannot be found in Middle or Early Modern English. The main objection is that the first written version of the rhyme dates to the late 19th century--and at that time, it is only one of a number of variants. (This despite the fact that antiquarians had been collecting nursery rhymes for close to 100 years before this date) There is also the problem that the words do not correspond with actual plague symptoms.

I would urge anyone interested in a more in-depth treatment of the rhyme to visit either the page at snopes.com, http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/rosie.htm or Ian Munro's FAQ at http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/amroth/RATR/ring.html. You can find my own article on the topic at http://members.tripod.com/nicolaa5/articles/rosie.html.

I personally find the history of this rhyme to be fascinating. Perhaps more important than the question "is it really about the plague?" is the question, "why do we believe it to be about the plague?"

Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton

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