Old Sayings and Rhymes from the 1940’s

I love to hear the different ways people spoke in the past. It’s similar to how I enjoy hearing different languages. You can imagine life in another time or place.

Quite a while back, Arlene Charest wrote me with some rhymes and sayings she remembered from growing up in the 1940’s. I felt these are important to try to preserve. Here are a couple, along with what Arlene had to say about the times…

I know so many rhymes and sayings from 1940 and during the war when we could roller skate down the center of a no longer busy street (no gas, no rubber, no young men), holding hands and singing, “Coming in on a wing on a prayer…”. We did a lot of ball bouncing:

One Two Three a Nation,
I observed my confirmation,
On the day of decoration,
One Two Three a Nation.

The other one was:

“A” my name is Arlene,
My husband’s name is Alfred,
We live in Albany
And we eat Apples
, and so on through the alphabet.

My grandmother had an old victrola with the wind up handle and, “It’s a long way to Tiperarie; it’s a long way to go; it’s a long way to Tiperarie, to the sweetest girl I know…” and of course, “There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover” which everybody old knows. -Arlene

Arlene mentioned other sayings in an earlier email:

“Go up to your kind policeman; he’ll tell you just where to go.”

-From NYC school system, to keep children from getting frightened if they got lost, around 1940.

Also, my husband remembers his uncle singing a rhyme:

“Sitting on a curbstone chewing Pepsin gum….
Go on you big fat lobster, said the little bum.”

And that brings me to expressions like “Eh Gads and Saints Preserve Us and For Heaven’s Sake” – nobody, boy or girl ever swore that I can recall, but there were many funny exclamations like these.

There were wonderful rope jumping rhymes and I am trying to bring them back to mind – if I had a word or two, I know it would come. Maybe one of your readers knows part of a phrase and I could then remember.

Just tickling our memories. -Arlene

If anyone would like to share any rhymes or songs from the 1930’s and ’40’s to help Arlene remember, please feel free to comment below or email me.


UPDATE: We found some of these songs below. You can find the lyrics to Go up to your kind policeman; he’ll tell you just where to go at the link with a recording by Tiny Tim.

This article was posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2007 at 4:43 pm and is filed under American Kids Songs, Ball Bouncing Rhymes, Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, English, Languages, Proverbs, Rhymes by Theme, Sayings, Sayings from the 1940's, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

150 Responses to “Old Sayings and Rhymes from the 1940’s”

  1. Martha Brumbaugh Says:

    Im looking for the lyrics to an old rhyme about “Old Mr. ELEPHANT”. OLD mr. Elephant , wrinkled & gray. Old Mr. Elephant, walks this way. Swinging his head & swinging his tail, swinging along on the jungle trail. Thats all I can remember.

  2. Connie Basinger Says:

    Yesterday my 90 year old Aunt called me and asked me if I remember a “ditty” from the 1940s we sang as kids. She said it was something like:
    “Linga linga ling, linga linga lie”
    Some thinga about “she opened the window to shout” “The window came down and hit her in the head” and “The Chinaman’s dead”…sounds terrible and ‘politicaally incorrect’, but I would like to be able to send it to her. It seemed important for her to remember it. Thank you, Connie.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Connie – You can find versions of that song on Mudcat here.

  4. Connie Basinger Says:

    That isn’t the one, but I have found out more about the lyrics. Certainly not spelled right nor makes any sense but here are a few words in the song.

    Chinga linga ling, Chinga linga ling, ……

    also Ego Igo happy man
    prego presto bangeor
    galloping walloping chineeor

  5. Brad Says:

    Great site I stumbled on. I’m 49 and live in “very” rural KY. A song came to mind that me and my sisters sang as children. I think this is right but it’s been a few years.

    Miss Tabby had a baby
    She named him Tiny Tim.
    She put him in the bathtub
    To see if he could swim.

    He drank up all the water
    He eat up all the soap.
    He tried to eat the bathtub
    But it wouldn’t go down his throat.

  6. Gigi Wizowaty Says:

    I’m looking for a poem or chant that included, ” I killed a man today,” said he. “You killed a man today?” said I. “I killed a man today,” said he.

    Probably from the 20s or 30s?

  7. GratefulinGa Says:

    What a lovely site! In the early 1960’s, during a power outage, my Grandmother entertained us by teaching/leading us in a game. I was very young but recall it included a rhyme and questions, we moved to various locations in the room, something about Kitty in a corner – maybe meowing? I only remember bits and pieces, hoping someone might know enough to help fil in the gaps.
    Thank you!

  8. Lisa Says:

    According to Improvencyclopedia, it’s a children’s game called “Kitty in the Corner”.

    “4 – 6 players stand at corners of the playing area, one player in the middle. 2 players try to make eye contact, and then switch places, while the middle player tries to capture a corner. The faster the pace, and the higher the stakes (make diagonal eye contacts!) the more fun.”

  9. KAREN SMITH Says:

    My mom has been stuck trying to remember the beginning and the end of this…”I’ll jump in bed and cover up my head and bet you cannot find me”…a saying with which she remembers my dad would tease her. Her end of day closing with me has always been “Pleasant dreams, sweet repose, half the bed and all the clothes.” Clothes here refers to sheets, blankets etc. She just experienced a stroke at 89 and days later was able to close our telephone conversation with “Pleasant dreams, sweet repose, half the bed and all the clothes.” We were blessed.

  10. Lisa Says:

    Hi Karen – Your mom’s bedtime rhyme dates back to at least to the 1850’s!

  11. Eric T Hall Says:

    One bright day in the middle of the night.
    Two dead boys rose to fight.
    Back to back they faced each other.
    Drew thier swords and shot each other.
    The deaf policeman heard the noise.
    Come and killed them two dead boys.
    If you dont believe this lie is true.
    Ask the blind man he saw it too…

    I see said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.

  12. Eric T Hall Says:

    One dark day while the sky was blue.
    Down the road a sewer wagon flew.
    A bump was hit a scream was heard.
    Someone got hit by a flying turd.

    Jump rope…
    Miss mary mack all dressed in black with silver buttons down her back.

  13. Emily Says:

    Hi I’ve been reading some of these and was wondering if anyone had ever heard of a couple of songs my Nan used to sing to me that she said her mum had sung to her when they were in the shelters during the war, the first one went:

    I’ll tell Ma a Mary Ann, walking down the street with a nice young man, high legged boots and a feather in his hat, that’s the way you get the sack.

    And the other one was:

    Policeman policeman don’t take me I have a wife and a family,
    How many children have you got?
    Four and twenty,
    That’s a lot!

    I would love to know if anyone else knows of these songs and if they do if they can remember any more of the words. Used to sing them to my daughter when she was a baby and these along with my old man’s a dustman (in a slower quieter version) were the only songs that used to sooth her off to sleep.

    Thanks for any help in advance

  14. Kathleen Says:

    Responding to Justin’s 2016 post…hey I just came across this site

    My mom taught us this song:

    Grandmom Pembroke taught us a Depression Era song I taught you three:

    Three Jolly old bums
    Three Jolly old bums
    Three Jolly old bums are we
    We hang around the Jolly old town as happy as can be

    The other night we met a man we never met before
    He asked us if we wanted a job shoveling iron ore
    We asked him, what the wages were
    He said 10 cents a ton
    We said oh brother oh mister
    We’d rather be on the bum
    Shootin’ sticks and stokies
    Hi diddly dum
    Sleeping in the boxcars
    Having lot of fun

    We woke up in the morning
    And gazed upon the wall
    The bedbugs and the roaches
    We’re having a game of ball
    The score was 19 20
    The bedbugs were ahead
    The roaches hit a homerun
    And knocked us out of bed

    We went downstairs for breakfast
    The bread was hard and stale
    The coffee taste like tobacco juice
    The kind you get in jail

  15. Sue Says:

    My mom and aunt would laugh when one couldn’t hear the other, and they would recite a saying:
    You deaf old soul,
    You said you lost your pole

    They would continue on, but I can’t remember the other lines that went to it. Does anyone know the rest of this little rhyme?

  16. Lisa Says:

    Hi Sue! I found a slightly different and longer version on this site that goes:

    “There was this man having dinner at this old woman’s house. She was hard of hearing. She did like we always do, and asked the fellow if he wanted anything else.

    He responded: ‘O, I’ve eaten sufficient.’

    The woman, trying to understand him, with hand to ear says: ‘Eh? You’ve been a-fishing?’

    The man, trying to clarify his words says, a little louder this time, ‘No, I’ve had plenty!’

    The woman, still bewildered, but thinking she knows what’s going on says, ‘And you caught twenty?’

    Then the man, realizing what he was up against says, ‘You poor, old soul.’

    The woman, leans forward, hand on ear and says: ‘And you broke your pole?’

    The story usually ends there, but I’m told it can continue with ‘You old fool!’ – ‘You fished in a pool?'”

    You can find a slightly different version here.

    Does anyone know more lines that go with this joke?

    -Mama Lisa

  17. YourSoundman Says:

    Please help me out here! Given the current health situation, I was hoping to revive an old 50s-60s sing-a-long about morning hygiene I still remember from years ago.

    If you grew up within fifty miles of Manhattan, NY in the early 1980s, FM radio station WHTZ 100FM used to play it early every weekday morning.

    Cannot find it anywhere online, including YouTube!

    Here’s as much as I can remember:

    Wash your hands (Wash your hands!)
    Comb your hair (Comb your hair!)
    Scrub your face (Scrub your face!)

    Before you come down each morning, every day!

    Your hands are sure to shake hands with someone whose hands are sure to be clean,

    You hair is where your face begins and your face is the very first place to be seen…..

    To that effect, the best of my recollection.

    Pleeease, someobody out there, I know someone knows what the heck I’m talking about

    Thanks in advance!

  18. Kathy Ralph Says:

    Amazing site. So many memories.
    I am looking for a poem that used to be told to me as a child, hope someone can help.
    Tiny Tim sat on the rim (brim) and looked at the deep deep sea (tea)
    It was something about a cup of tea I think! Love to find it.

  19. Roylene DiDio Says:

    Grew up in Tacoma Washington, Music Box Theater was having a talent show. I was 10. Sang this song: A you’re adorable, B you’re so beautiful, C you’re a cutie full of charm, D you’re a Darling, E you’re exciting, F you’re a feather in my arms, G you look good to me, H you’re so heavenly, I you’re the one I idolize, J we’re like Jack and Jill, K you’re so kissable, L is the love light in your eyes, M, N, O, P, I could go on all day, Q, R, S, T, alphabetically speaking, you’re O.K., U, make my life complete, V, means you’re very sweet, W, X, Y, Z, It’s fun to wander thru the alphabet with you to tell you what you mean to me.
    I was so proud, I won a prize, a quart of vanilla ice cream, took to home, and treated my family to a dish of ice cream.

  20. Roylene DiDio Says:

    Old memories are the best. I’m 81 ! and still going strong.

  21. Marian Betts Says:

    I just found this site and have an hours fun reading all the memories! My was a poetess and loved to read and write poetry, so she made sure we did, too. One of my favorites was from the 1800’s by Charles Kingsley.

    I once had a sweet little doll, dears,
    The prettiest doll in the world;
    Her cheeks were so red and so white, dears,
    And her hair was so charmingly curled.
    But I lost my poor little doll, dears,
    As I played in the heath one day;
    And I cried for more than a week, dears,
    But I never could find where she lay.

    I found my poor little doll, dears,
    As I played in the heath one day:
    Folks say she is terribly changed, dears,
    For her paint is all washed away,
    And her arms trodden off by the cows, dears
    And her hair not the least bit curled:
    Yet for old sakes’ sake she is still, dears,
    The prettiest doll in the world.

  22. John Says:

    a is for apple ——- b is for bun we eat at tea…..what was the rest

  23. brenda bates Says:

    how bout… Fishy Fishy in the brook Daddy catches em with a hook Mommy fries em in a pan Baby eats em like a man

  24. Guy Says:

    Here are the lyrics I learned from my mother regarding the “policeman” and the “little bum”. Coupled with a nice little tune, two verses:

    A Passing Policeman saw a little bum
    Sitting on the curbstone, chewing chewing gum.
    Said he to him kindly “Won’t you give me some?”
    “Yum, yum, yum!”  said the little bum.

    “Please, mister conductor, let me on your car,
    I only have a nickel, and I must go very far.
    I’m going to see my Grandma in Pittsburg PA,
    And I will never get there, if you take my nickel away.”

  25. Lisa Says:

    Bill Nolan sent this:

    Rhyme told to me as a child by my father who was a WWII Vet…

    A big fat policeman saw a little bum,
    Sitting on a curb stone chewing bubblegum.
    “Ah” Said the policeman, “Won’t you give me some?”
    “Shinny up your shirttail,” said the little bum.

  26. Shawn Strange Says:

    My late father-in-law used to recite a farm poem all the time, but we don’t remember all the words. Can anyone help?

    “Out on the farm it was half past four, I jerked on my pants and ran out the door. I milked 10 cows and mended the fences, (…….. ) and fed the chickens.”

    There was something about, “curing Nance and Jig.” And, “some people say there ain’t no he’ll, but they never farmed, so they can’t tell.”

    Any help would be appreciated!! Thx! Shawn from Ohio ❤️😎

  27. Lisa Says:

    Hi Shawn – You can find the poem online. It’s called Life on the Farm by Henry M. Lorang.

  28. Suzie Says:

    Hello, Can anyone help with this? In the 1960s I had a large format book with Christian poems for children, all illustrated. One of them was a child talking to Jesus as if he was a child the same age, and asking him about growing up in Heaven. In one place he asks Jesus if he used the stars to play with like marbles. Also he asked if he played with the angels asking, ‘and did the things play Can you See Me through their wings? As a small child myself I loved the poem, but it is as much the association with the adults who read them to me that makes me want to find this poem again. Anyone else heard or read it? I do hope someone can help me out here. Many thanks.S

  29. Michael J Mannion Says:

    I am looking for a song that was part of an album of funny songs my parents used to play on the record player in the late 1950s/early 1960s It was the story about land developers intending to expand homes into a wooded or forested area only to be encountered (and outsmarted) by a pesky beaver who foiled their every plan. Music (especially drumming) was part of the beaver’s arsenal. The last line of the song was something like this: “And the law of the land is that no beaver shall fail…if he fails to make dams, but instead plays the drums….with his tail.”


  30. Gillian Says:

    My mom used to sing to me at bedtime, Scarlet Ribbons. I now sing it to my little one – it’s her most requested song these days.

    I came on here to remember a rhyme that has completely left my mind… was hoping it would be triggered by something here, but unfortunately not yet. It had words that blended together that didn’t make sense, but if you slowed it down, you could figure out the words and meanings
    … not helpful I know. It’s on the tip of my tongue!

  31. Shamzie Says:

    I’m a 2001 child but I was taught the St Ives song and
    One fine day in the middle of the night
    Two dead men got up to fight song

    However, I’ve been trying to remember the rest on the
    Seven Fat Fishermen Sitting Side By Side, Fished From a Bridge by the Banks of a Clide lyrics

    [Note: “Clide” might be the “Clyde” River.]

  32. Mike Mage Says:

    Many of the remembered snatches of songs and rhymes go back at least to the 1600s and came here with settlers.
    Some can be found in the Child Ballads (“The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Ballads

    Others can be found in collections of Mother Goose, also dating to the 1600s.

    The Caedmon Mother Goose (sung and recited by Cyril Richard, Boris Karloff, and Celeste Holme) is a great starting point. It has many of the songs and rhymes recalled on this thread. It’s available as used vinyl, audio cassette, and on YouTube.


  33. Kirsten Says:

    So glad to find this site. I’ve been looking for the exact words to a marching poem my mom taught me in the early 1960s. The words are in cadence so when you say “left” your left foot is hitting the ground, and when you say “right” your right foot goes down. But I must be missing some words because after you finish you should be able to start over in step, but I’m always on the wrong foot. It goes something like:

    Left my wife and 41 kids, an old gray mule and a peanut stand
    Did I do right?
    Right by my country and
    Right by my wife.
    I had a good home and I
    Left…. (these two lines are the ones I can’t get to come out correctly with my feet. What am I

  34. Lisa Says:


    I’m seeing other versions on the internet. They seem to end in the following ways:

    -“Left, left, left, right, left…” (Then it would go into the first line.)

    Or simply:

    -“Left, left,
    Left my wife…..”

    You can find more versions here.

    Does anyone else know Kirsten’s version?

  35. Patty Says:

    There was a saying my father-in-law used to say. I only remember a few words and is wondering if anyone can help. It goes something something something and a cross cut saw.

  36. Lisa Says:

    Jay sent this very local Philadelphia-specific verse from the song “O you can’t get to heaven” (from the 50’s):

    O you can’t get to heaven
    On the Frankford El,
    Because the Frankford El
    Goes straight to …. 69th Street!

    “The surprise unrhymed ending made it very funny — and kind of naughty too (for 11 year olds) because of the anticipated bad word, ‘hell.’



  37. Chris Brown Says:

    Gillian (Dec 4 20) asked about a song that “had words that blended together that didn’t make sense, but if you slowed it down, you could figure out the words and meanings”
    I suspect he means the old Andrews Sisters’ hit “Mareseatoats and Doeseatoats & Littlelambseativy”. Easy enough to find if that is the one.

    My mother was a skylark and sang from morn till night. We three children all had our favourites. Her repertoire was huge and I often remember some of her songs, many of which were film and Broadway hits rather than “folk songs” but occasionally she would come up with really old songs from her own mother from Devon. I came here looking for more lyrics for an English song with the title “The Boy on the Top of the No. 12 Bus” (or similar). Here’s what I remember:
    “Have you spent the tuppence mother gave you?
    Ain’t that lady’s face like our dog, Nell?
    something something something never tell.

    Is it true that we all came from monkeys
    When I look at you I think it so.
    If you are a monkey where’s your tail gone?
    Eh Dad, don’t you know.”

    Ta very much, Chris

  38. Lisa Says:

    Chris Brown- I found this on Mudcat from circa 1908 according to the YouTube:

    You can hear this at YouTube:

    As sung by Ben Albert

    My youngest son, he’s of a most inquiring turn of mind,
    And answers to his questions it all puzzles me to find.
    We started in a tram today; with anger I turned red.
    The passengers all smiled aloud when my young kiddie said:

    “Have you spent that tuppence mother gave you?
    Ain’t that woman’s face like our dog Nell?
    Why is it that you’re always wearing whiskers,
    And mother never does? Please, Daddy, tell.
    Is it true that we descend from monkeys?
    Now I look at you, it must be so.
    But if you are a monkey, where’s your tail gone?
    Aye, Dad, don’t you know?”

    We gave a supper party and I let our kid sit up.
    He promised that he wouldn’t speak a word, the little pup.
    But later on, the rascal, he for knowledge seemed to thirst.
    In front of all the guests we had, these questions on me burst:

    “Will these people here eat all the food up?
    Ain’t they had no dinner for a week?
    Is that the soup that mother fetched from uncle’s?
    And why does she put red stuff on her cheek?
    Where did mother first discover, you, Dad?
    Was it in a Barnum-Bailey show?
    And how did you become my little daddy?
    Aye, Dad, don’t you know?”

    My daughter Kate’s been on the shelf for years, but found a jay,
    And so to see her married, we all went to church today.
    The youngster started talking; I tried to turn him out.
    He got beneath the fam’ly pew and then commenced to shout:

    “Is it right that sister’s found a josser?
    Is it true he’ll meet an awful fate?
    Does he know that mother’s going to live with them,
    Just to see that things are going straight?
    Does he know that sister’s leg’s a cork one?
    I wonder if she’s ever told him so?
    D’you think he’ll find it out and want this money back?
    Aye, Dad, don’t you know?”

  39. Gary Dennis Says:

    My Dad used to say this: All aboard that’s going aboard, if you can’t get a board get a shingle.

  40. George S. Says:

    Here’s the way I remember that “Little Eileen” song that Jana Carman asked about, some 3 years ago:

    Down to the river came little Eileen
    with her bright golden hair like the crown of a queen.
    For it’s over the river to market she’d go,
    and she’d bring back a bunny as white as the snow.

    “But if you go over the river today,”
    said the lad in the boat, “Why, you surely must pay!”
    “But I haven’t a penny, I’ve traveled a mile.
    If you carry me over, I’ll give you a smile.”

    “Blue are your eyes and your smile is so bright,
    if I carry you over I’m sure it’s all right.
    So we’ll hurry to market before it can rain,
    and perhaps, if you ask me, I’ll take you again.”

  41. Kim Says:

    My Grandpa used to sing a song that I can’t find anywhere –

    “…3 rubber dollies cheeks are rosy, danced upon their little toesies. I had a wonderful time last night at the dance of the paper dolls.”

    Has anyone heard anything like this?

  42. Wilma Cagle Says:

    Not sure of exact words, spelling, etc. (Tommy Tickum Tackum, Willy Wickum Wackum). My deceased husband used to say it. I would love to pass it down to the grandkids.

  43. Geo. Halverson Says:

    Back in the mid-forties when I was about 5 years old, I gave a recitation at our annual Christmas concert in a one-room rural village school in Nova Scotia, Canada. I can only remember the first line which was: “What do I want for Christmas?, I’ll tell you right away”. Does anyone know the rest of this poem? I would love to hear from you.

  44. Olivia Lovett Says:

    My grandpa would always tell me when I’m mad “Kiss em on the check that’ll surprise them!” I don’t remember the exact saying but I love hearing old saying it’s so interesting. I guess I’m an old soul, I’m only 15. LOL

  45. Jeanine Zolfaghari Says:

    Love these! My parents said and sang many of them. (Mom just passed in August and was 101🙃. One rhyme she said a lot I haven’t seen here.

    All good children go to heaven
    All the rest to go down below
    To see the devil bite his toe😈.

  46. Angela Says:

    In response to Wilma Cagle: My Dad too had a rhyme that I remember as follows (like you don’t know the spelling):

    I went down to my Worley Wickum Wackum, there I spied Bob Bickum Backum, (and then something about) Tom Tickum Tackum.

    That’s all I can remember.

  47. Lisa Says:

    Evidently this was a riddle. It can be found in The Journal of American Folk-lore from 1922:

    As I went across my Whirly Whicka Whackum (1),
    I met Tom Tackum (2)
    And called Bom Backum (3)
    To drive Tom Tackum
    Out of Whirly Whicka Whackum.

    (1) A field
    (2) A horse
    (3) A dog

  48. Kim Ann Callan Says:

    My Mom was of English decent (1918-1998) – her Mum was born on the Isle of Wight. Every night she said to me: “Pleasant dreams & sweet repose, half the bed & all the clothes” I’d reply “see you in the morning”; her retort was “not if I see you first” I figure the pleasant dreams part was some kind of poem/familiar saying possibly British in origin. The response to me ‘seeing her in morning’ well, I was never quite sure WHAT the heck THAT meant but I’m sure it was not meant as an insult as in- ‘I’ll hide so you never see me’ so, I guess it was just meant as her clever response. We did this gig nightly. Bedtime started by me asking her to “tuck me in real tight”. She’d tuck the covers all around me, down my legs and under my feet. Then I’d immediately wiggle and kick my feet up & down and say “I got untucked, please do it again?” She would; one more time and then we’d recite our thing…I loved bedtime and I miss my mom!

  49. Kim Says:

    Responding to YourSoundman Says (April 9th, 2020 at 2:33 pm) – I remember this song! Like you, I cannot find anything about it on the internet. Have you had any luck? Wasn’t it part of a kid’s television program? Like Howdy Doody or something similar maybe?
    For new readers, the song was a sing along that said (in a nutshell), Wash your hands, Comb your hair, Wash your face, before you come down each morning, every day! Your hands are sure to shake hands with someone whose hands are sure to be clean,…etc, etc.
    Does anyone else remember this?

  50. Sheryl Says:

    My dad used to sing me “Chickery Chick Cha La Cha La, checka la romika in a bananika, balaga walaga can’t you see, Chickery Chick is me”. Also “Pickle in the middle and the mustard on top, just the way you like and a roaring hot”. These songs pick me up when I’m bummed or just thinking of him.

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