The scraps of lore which children learn from each other are at once more real, more immediately serviceable, and more vastly entertaining to them than anything which they learn from grown-ups. To a child it can be a ‘known fact’ that the Lord’s Prayer said backwards raises the devil, that a small knife-wound between the thumb and forefinger gives a person lock-jaw, that a hair from the head placed on the palm will split the master’s cane. It can be a useful piece of knowledge that the reply to ‘A pinch and a punch for the first of the month’ is ‘A pinch and a kick for being so quick’. And a verse a child hears the others saying,
Mister Fatty Belly, how is your wife?
Very ill, very ill, up all night,
Can’t eat a bit of fish
Nor a bit of liquorice.
O-U-T spells out and out you must go
With a jolly good clout upon your ear hole spout,
may seem the most exciting piece of poetry in the language. [Compare with the two US rhymes,
Fatty, fatty two-by-four
Couldn’t get through the bathroom door
So he did it on the floor.
One potato, two potato, three potato, four,
Five potato, six potato, seven potato more.
Out goes Y-O-U.]
Such a verse, recited by 8-year-olds in Birmingham, can be as traditional and as well known to children as a nursery rhyme; yet no one would mistake it for one of Mother Goose’s compositions. It is not merely that there is a difference in cadence and subject-matter, the manner of its transmission is different. While a nursery rhyme passes from a mother or other adult to the small child on her knee, the school rhyme circulates simply from child to