The seemingly sweet and harmless nursery rhyme, “Ring Around a Rosie,” is said to have a creepy origin. Usually, the song is sung by little children in schools. Everyone holds hands and turning in a large circle. When the last line of the rhyme, “we all fall down,” is chanted, the kids drop to the floor, only to get up and do it again. At first glance, it’s all pretty cute, but after learning about its origin, it’s just plain creepy.
Folklorists trace this rhyme back to 1347. This is the year that the bubonic plague or the “Black Plague” was on the rise. The Black Plague was a disease carried by rodents and transmitted to humans by fleas that picked up the lethal thing. By 1350, it killed about a third of the population in western Europe.
Some speculate that the phrase “ring around the Rosie” refers to the appearance of the rash that accompanied the disease. Red circles or rings popped up on the skin of those who were infected. The “pocket full of posies,” alludes to the plants and herbs people put in their pockets to ward off the fleas. Additionally, the rhyme contains the line “ashes, ashes.” There are a few theories behind the purpose of these words in regards to the Black Plague. “Ashes, ashes,” may be referring to the sounds of sneezing, burning of the diseased, burning houses that belonged to people infected by the plague, and or the dark discoloration of victims skin from which the term “Black Plague” was derived.
Lastly, the “we all fall down” part is said to refer to the inevitable death the plague brought on. Suddenly, this rhyme doesn’t look so cute anymore!
Critics attack this interpretation saying that “Ring Around the Rosie,” is an innocent, meaningless rhyme. Either way, it’s entirely creepy to have children sing it after knowing there’s a chance its correlated to death and illness.