‘Jack and also Jill went up the hill’: us all know these words that call ago our early on childhoods so vividly, yet wherein did lock come from and what walk this rhyme mean? It can be attention to try to probe or analyse the an interpretation of nursery rhymes as well deeply – lot like analysing the nonsense city of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, us are likely to come upon a hermeneutic dead-end. But ‘Jack and Jill’ is so famous that a closer look at its definition and beginnings seems justified.

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Jack and Jill went increase the hillTo fetch a pail the water;Jack dropped down and also broke his crown,And Jill come tumbling after.

Up Jack got, and also home go trot,As rapid as he can caper,To old Dame Dob, who patched his nobWith vinegar and also brown paper.


Is this the finish rhyme of ‘Jack and Jill’? That depends on once you read it, or where. The very first stanza is by much the oldest, and seems to have been the sum full of the ‘Jack and Jill’ rhyme in the eighteenth century, when it’s first recorded. The 2nd stanza showed up in the beforehand nineteenth century when the vogue for chapbooks – quick illustrated books containing extended versions of well-known nursery rhymes – arose. (The chapbook because that ‘Old mother Hubbard’, because that instance, was a substantial bestseller in the first couple of decades the the nineteenth century.)

The native ‘crown’, by the way, almost certainly refers to Jack’s head (or the an extremely top the it), quite than arguing royal connotations (e.g. Jack is a prince or portraying a monarch of some sort). Jack and Jill are simply an plain boy and also girl (or young man and young woman, potentially).

If friend read among these old chapbook versions, you encounter a ‘Jack and Jill’ rhyme the is a lining fifteen stanzas long:

Then JILL came in,And she go grin,To view JACK’S document plaster,Her mommy put her,A fools lid on,For laughing at Jack’s disaster.

This made JILL pout,And she ran out,And JACK did quickly follow,They speak dog Ball,Jill gained a fall,How Jack walk laugh and also hollow.

The DAME come out,To recognize all about,Jill claimed Jack made she tumble,Says Jack i’ll tell,You exactly how she fell,Then referee if she need grumble.

And so the goes top top for an additional ten now-thoroughly-forgotten stanzas.

Thankfully because that our purposes here, the most acquainted version for modern readers is the two-stanza rendering quoted above. (Many readers will certainly be familiar with an alternate version of the penultimate line, i m sorry reads ‘He visited bed to mend his head / through vinegar and brown paper.’ Don’t worry, we’ll involved ‘nob’ in due course.)


But although the was first written down in the eighteenth century, the original rhyme that Jack and also Jill might be of a considerably older vintage. Iona and also Peter Opie, in your endlessly informative and also illuminating The Oxford thesaurus of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford dictionary of Nusery Rhymes)

, Roberts draws attention to the surprising existence of the word ‘nob’ in the second stanza of the nursery rhyme, or at least the variation cited by the Opies (and the one we’ve reproduced above).

‘Nob’ has actually meant ‘head’ because the ten century (a ‘nob-thatcher’ to be a wigmaker, although that sounds prefer some kind of euphemism or slur), yet as a slang word it’s an ext often used to another component of the male anatomy. Why it must need patching by Dame Dob with vinegar and brown document afterwards isn’t clear, and this translate is, again, interesting yet not have to persuasive.

But then what is ‘Jack and Jill’ about? Sadly, us will more than likely never know for certain – assuming, the is, the the rhyme ever had an yes, really ‘meaning’. Countless nursery rhymes originated as counting or dancing song to be sung while children played a game together. However the fact that the nursery rhyme has actually attracted these two really different interpretations states something around our desire to understand and also interpret this timeless children’s rhymes. However as for an ultimate meaning? That continues to be as elusive together ever.

About nursery rhymes

For many of us, nursery rhymes room the first poems we ever encounter in life. They deserve to teach us around rhythm, and around constructing a story in verse, and, occasionally, lock impart essential moral lessons come us. Sometimes, though, they do no feeling at all, and also should be appreciated purely as ‘nonsense’, together a forerunner come the victorian nonsense city so expertly practised by Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll.

Some nursery rhymes appear to have emerged as simple rhymes to accompany counting or dancing gamings played by children. Sometimes, very specific historical subtexts for well known nursery rhymes have actually been propose (many of them relating to the English reformation of the sixteenth century, when King Henry VIII broke with the roman inn Catholic Church and established the Church the England).

Many of these origin-myths revolve out to be just that: myths, or retreat attempts to find a depths ‘meaning’ to rhymes i m sorry are, after ~ all, children’s songs to it is in sung or chanted during play. For instance, the idea the the luck ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ to be written about the bubonic plague has been extensively debunked, as has actually the notion that ‘Humpty Dumpty’ to be originally around a cannon in the English civil War.

Discover the stories behind much more classic nursery rhymes with our evaluation of ‘London leg is fall Down’, our commentary on the tiny Bo Peep rhyme, and our write-up delving right into the background of the ‘Mary had actually a little Lamb’ nursery rhyme.

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The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literature critic and also lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. The is the writer of, among others, The mystery Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey with Curiosities of History

and The an excellent War, The waste Land and the Modernist lengthy Poem.