Questionable singing

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Old Lady.

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One of my friends had a baby a few months ago. I get to see this little guy several times a month. He’s a mostly happy boy but sometimes, like anyone, he gets cranky and needs a nap. When he is feeling tired his mama sings him songs. Songs I haven’t heard in ages. Songs that always made think when I was a young girl – what is that all about? Songs that still make me wonder the same thing.

Take the old woman who swallowed a fly. Huh? When I was a kid this song made me mad trying to figure out all the things this senior ate. So many large and disgusting things disappeared down her craw: a spider, a bird, a cow. While I appreciate a good steak the whole animal is too much. Maybe the song is supposed to make youngsters think about what they’re eating.

I knew an old woman who swallowed a fly
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly

In my head the old lady swallowed the bigger items like a boa constrictor. Bit by bit, centimetre by centimetre, until the whole thing was gone. Perhaps she’ll die.

Then there’s the old man who played knick-knack on my thumb. What is knick-knack anyway?

This old man, he plays one
He plays knick knack on my thumb
With a knick knack paddy wack
Give a dog a bone
This old man comes rolling home

What kind of bone did he give to the dog? I hope it wasn’t chicken because they’re not good for puppies. Also, why did the man go rolling home? Is his house at the bottom of a hill? This is another song that raises too many questions for me to like to sing it. The lyrics are in the way.

My mother used to sing “Do your ears hang low?” to my sisters and I. Not to put us to sleep but to entertain us. I was stuck on one particular part though, what’s a continental solider?


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Do Your Ears Hang Low?
Do They Wobble to and Fro?
Can You Tie Them in a Knot?
Can You Tie Them in a Bow?
Can You Throw Them Over Your Shoulder Like a Continental Soldier?

Of course we’re now in the age of the Internet so I googled “continental solider.” Turns out, a continental solider was someone who fought against the British in the American Revolutionary War in 1775. Interesting. Here is it 2014 and we’ve been singing about these rebels for almost 240 years. It’s amazing to think of the oral history still being passed along in certain songs and stories.

Now that I’ve cleared those lyrics up (oh and the song is thought to be about a hound dog’s ears) I don’t have to think about the words anymore. I can share this song with my little buddy. I just wish I could sing.

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