This song has issues involving race and racial slurs. I recommend that you do not use this with your students. Please consider what you read here and do your own research to learn more about this song.
I personally do not use this rhyme with my students due to the inappropriate and harmful version that uses a derogatory term. I did, however, decide to include it on my website because of its prevalence in school cultures. Almost all of my students know this rhyme and will use it to make decisions. As far as I know, they have not heard any other versions aside from what I have posted below in the analysis section.
Suggested Grade Levels: None
A few years ago when I heard that Eeny Meeny Miny Moe was a racist chant, I was absolutely shocked. This is something that I had used and played for my entire life without knowing the ugly truth behind it. While there are documented versions of the rhyme that use the “N” word, the chant was not originally created with the intention of being derogatory, but later had connotation added.
Different versions of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe can be found around the world! It is believed to have been created as a method of counting to achieve diverse outcomes in England and Scotland. Some of these outcomes involve shepherds counting sheep, women keeping track of stitches while knitting, and fisherman harvesting their catch. The original chant sounded different than the one with which we are familiar today. See the counting score below.
“Yan, tan, tethera, methera, pimp,
Sethera, lethera, hothera, dovera, dick,
Yan-dick, tan-dick, tether-dick, mether-dick, bumfit,
Yan-a-bumfit, tan-a-bumfit, tethera bumfit, pethera bumfit, gigert.”
As it evolved, different cultures replaced words either with words from their own language or nonsense words that would fit the rhyme. This is most likely how the racist American version came about.
There were several potential explanations for the racist versions of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe. Some of them involved white slave owners and what they would do to enslaved people if they were caught trying to escape. Another was that the children of slave owners would use it to mock enslaved people. Due to the prevalence and notoriety of this detrimental version of the chant, I have personally chosen not to use it in my classroom and recommend that you do not either.
Children will have options (example: other students, objects, colors, etc.) in front of them and point to each option to a steady beat while reciting the rhyme. Who or whatever they point to on the last “moe” will be their choice.
–Steady beat activity
–Simple way to make decisions
–Great for reading and practicing eighth/quarter notes
–Rhyming identification and practice
–Macmillan Spain. (2013, February 4). Eeny meeny, miny, moe [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSUmoBejJRs
–McDougle, L. (2019, July 5). Eeny meeny miny mo. Songs with a Questionable Past. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1q1jVGqOgKxfiUZ8N3oz0warXefGIJill2Xha-3X5nUY/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR3s8_zEtc97xSL7P0AdOPjxRhJg8D4BIz9Ky6HtmHJbEiAPnmwvEEFTZb4
–Raphel, A. (2015, April 26). Eeny meeny miny mo, a chant that spans the globe [Interview]. Weekend Edition; NPR. https://www.npr.org/2015/04/26/402353801/eeny-meeny-miny-mo-a-chant-that-spans-the-globe
–Raphel, A. (2015, April 16). Losing count. The Paris Review. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/04/16/losing-count/
–Simchayoff, E. (January 25). The racist origin of ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’. Medium. https://aninjusticemag.com/the-racist-origin-of-eeny-meeny-miny-moe-411e2d4815ac