Like most nursery rhymes, “Goosey, Goosey Gander” sounds innocent enough because it’s programmed into your head from a young age and on.
However, as soon as you take a look at the words about throwing a man down the stairs for not saying his prayers, it becomes clear that it’s not really just your average childhood sing-along.
Tommy Thumb’s Song Book
The first collection of nursery rhymes was published in the form of "Tommy Thumb’s Song Book." The book came out in 1744 and was created by Mary Cooper.
A few decades later, the term “Mother Goose” was coined when Thomas Carnan published Mother Goose’s Melody in 1780. After that, they were used throughout the centuries as a language-learning tool for young children.
Nursery Rhymes and Development
Nursery rhymes can help with language development and acquisition in a number of ways, thanks to the rhymes and rhythms involved. And it isn't just English skills, but they help to develop, but also spatial reasoning, which can improve a child’s mathematical abilities.
Have we thought at all about the meaning behind the words of the nursery rhymes that are playing on repeat in children’s heads? Some of the dark origins of these supposedly innocent childhood nursery rhymes may shock you.
The earliest known version of this rhyme was published in London in 1784 in "Gammer Gurton's Garland or The Nursery Parnassus."
In this version, the last four lines, “there I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers, so I took him by his left leg, and threw him down the stairs,” don’t exist. In fact, it’s much more innocent, with “there you’ll find a cup of sack, and a race of ginger,” after “in my lady’s chamber.”
Real World Origins
The updated version shines a light on some very real issues that have plagued the world since humans started spreading out throughout it. It is said that the rhyme refers to places in which Catholic priests would hide during a very protestant King Henry VIII’s reign. (As well as his descendants Edward and Queen Elizabeth.)
If the priest was discovered hiding in one of these “priest holes,” he would be forcibly removed from the home – even if it’s meant getting thrown down the stairs.