Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ringe Range Rouzi

One of the coolest things I've found recently is a Hasidic online forum in Yiddish called "kinderishe geredekhts" - chilren's sayings. People write in, posting their memories of things they remember saying as children. Personally, I love children's sayings - it's a bit of real, vibrant folklore that we've all participated in firsthand. Sometimes children's sayings can be surprising. For instance, my wife, attending to a one-room schoolhouse (really) that was fifteen miles from the nearest post office, learned the same bit of doggerel that I did on the South Side of Chicago:

Monchichi monchichi
I can play Atari
Monchichi monchichi
I can do karate
Monchichi monchichi
Oops I'm sorry

How and why did this piece of nonsense spread so widely? I don't know, but it did. Weird, no? A lot of the Hasidic children's sayings are equally strange, but what fascinates me most is the interplay between Eastern European and American elements. Some of the sayings I know from scholarly studies of Yiddish children's sayings, others are English ones I knew growing up. Then there is the following:
רינגע ראנגע ראוזי פאקע פאלע פאוזי, עשעס עשעס ווי אלל פאל דאון
"Ringe range rouzi pake fole pouzi, eshes eshes vi all fal daun."

Pretty darn cool.

Even cooler is the ensuing discussion. The poster asks if anyone has heard the rumor that this has to do with idolatry. Someone else writes in to say that he read in "Mallos" (a Hasidic magazine) that this rhyme comes from "the church," and that the "falling down" at the end has to do with bowing down, a big taboo in Judaism, such a big no-no that the poster adds an acronym רח''ל meaning, roughly, 'God forbid' - for merely having mentioned bowing down. Someone else writes
The legend that 'Ring a ring a rozi" has to do with idolatry is sheer idiocy. Somebody just brought me a pamphlet from England that he picked up in one of the tourism places, and it just says that a few hundred years ago there was a plague in England that begins as a rash on the hands shaped like a round rose etc. and the remedy was to put ash on it, and if you didn't you would fall down dead.

This prompts someone to post a link to Snopes where they debunk the story that "Ring Around the Rosie" has anything to do with any plague.

A heck of a journey, all told. From suspicious rumors of idolatry to widespread urban legends to Snopes. All within a week. This is the revolution the internet is causing in the Hasidic world - an instant acceleration to light speed. And we get to watch.


Queenie said...

i remember the following:
monchichi monchichi
so soft and cuddly

i don't remember the atari/karate/sorry version.

Queenie said...

update: my version was the song to a tv commercial for a monkey-faced doll called monchichi. (creepy!)

Ben said...

That's right, and there was also a TV show that was on in 1983-1984 (during which time I learned the poem in question); Wikipedia has some details and a truly frightening picture of one. I never saw the show, but I'm sure I was aware of its existence at some level.

I suppose it's worth pointing out that the show had a theme song, which was completely unrelated either to to the jingle you remembered, or the children's chant I remembered.

Marisa said...

Oddly enough, I remember the same monchichi/karate song. I use to sing it all the time when I was in first/second grade.. occasionally I still find myself singing it.. I thought it came from jump roping or some activity.. when you'd say karate, you'd kick but then you'd say sorry because you had kicked someone in the behind.
I grew up in Texas.. so it is funny to see how far a simple jingle traveled.

clmumaw said...

Ok. I heard my daughter doing the same song that I learned as a kid with monchichi.... But now they are saying "batman batman"...

Bethany said...

My oldest daughter (age 36) still has her Monchichi doll & we still know the words to the nonsense rhyme!

Anonymous said...

I lived in the Atlanta, GA area in the 80’s, and we used to chant the same exact version (Atari/karate/sorry). I remember the Monchhichi monkey dolls too, but only from commercials. Nobody at my school ever admitted to having one; we all thought they were stupid and sang that song to make fun of them. I have no idea where it actually originated though. Must have been somewhere on TV, maybe in the Monchhchi cartoon at some point? There had to be some common thread since the commenters on here remembering that song version are from different parts of the country.