Versions of "Ring around the Rosie" can be found in many languages throughout Europe and the English-speaking world.
The German version is called "Ringe, Ringe, Reihe!" It can be found in print in an antiquarian magazine from 1796. That seems to be the earliest version in print. It's sung to the same tune as the English version.
The American version is called "Ring around the Rosie". There's reference to it being known in Massachusetts in 1790. Yet it can't be found in print before 1855, in a novel called, "The Old Homestead" by Ann S. Stephens. That version is somewhat different from the current versions.
The British name of the song is "Ring a Ring o' Roses". The song is first found in print in its current form in English in Kate Greenaway's book from 1881 called, "Mother Goose or the Old Nursery Rhymes".
Here you'll find some versions of the song in different languages from around the world...
Ring a Ring o' Roses
(Ring around the Rosie)
Ring around the Rosie & The Plague
Many people believe this song is about The Great Plague of London. That the roses refer to a rash. That the posies are kept in the pocket due to a superstition that it prevented the plague. In the British version they say "a-tishoo" which is the sound of a sneeze. Then they all fall down dead.
This idea that the song refers to a plague is not believed by folklorists. Firstly, the song is not seen in print until two centuries after the plague. Why would it not be found in print with other literature that exists from the time? Secondly, the first time the theory is mentioned in print is in 1951. Why wouldn't any of the early folklorists of children's music have mentioned it when they published the song? The best explanation I've seen is that it's folklore about folklore. It's what folklorists call "metafolklore".
Let's just admit it's a really good yarn!
There's an interesting article about it by Stephen Winick called, Ring Around the Rosie: Metafolklore, Rhyme and Reason.
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