A Nonsense Rhyme...

"'Ambarabà ciccì coccò' is also used as is 'one potato, two potato...........' to choose who is out!" -Janet

Gian Carlo wrote, "Regarding 'Ambarabai ciccì coccò ' (or 'Ambarabà ciccì coccò' depending on the version), it's a classical nursery rhyme that's many centuries old and it's still sung.

I've never heard an adult (parents and teachers included) complain about the line 'che facevano l'amore'. The fact is that the song is mechanically chanted as if it were nonsense. The lyrics only have a musical value, if we can put it this way. Kids (me too, when I was a little child, many years ago) recite it and do not think anything about. It is considered a sort of nonsense.

As you can check, you can find the rhyme on Wikipedia and if you search the Internet, you'll see that it's been copied or quoted in 20,600+ pages. That tells how famous it is and that it's not considered to be 'politically incorrect' as we'd say today.

There's even a web site called 'Ambarabai ciccì coccò' dealing with projects for preschool and kindergarten students."


*"Ambarabai ciccì coccò" is a nonsense phrase.

Similar versions of this rhyme exist, where, for example, the first and last lines are "Ambarabà ciccì coccò" and the fifth line is "Il dottore si ammalò" (the doctor fell ill).

Marco Lucato sent this version from the north of Italy:

tre civette sul comò,
che facevano l'amore,
con la figlia del dottore,
Il dottore si ammalò,

English Translation:

Three owls on the dresser,
Who made love,
With the doctor's daughter,
The doctor fell ill,


Gian Carlo wrote: "As I said, this (ancient) rhyme is very famous in Italy. Umberto Eco, in 1992, wrote about it in 'Il secondo diario minimo' (a book about semiotics). Furthermore it is cited in songs, theatrical works etc. For example 'Tre civette sul comò' is the title of a theatrical piece that our famous actress Paola Borboni played in 1982; two songs played by children during 'Zecchino d'Oro' (a musical contest) remind one of this rhyme: 'Tre civette' (1965) and 'Barabà, Ciccì e Coccò' (1992). Vermondo Brugnatelli, an Italian linguist, in 2003 wrote a work, 'Per un'etimologia di am barabà ciccì coccò', about the etymology of the first verse."

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Thanks and Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Gian Carlo Macchi for contributing and translating this song and for such interesting commentary about it. Thanks to Marco Lucato for sharing the version from northern Italy.

Grazie mille!