Published: 06th January 2009
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Nursery rhyme lyrics sound like sugar and spice and everything nice, but many have real meanings that would send children into therapy for the rest of their lives. These seemingly innocent lyrics conceal nightmarish stories about beheadings, the black plague, and war. They've traditionally been passed down from generation to generation, and, even though it's good to be honest with children, in the case of these lyrics, the old adage, "What they don't know can't hurt them," holds true. But just for adults, here are the disturbingly real meanings of nursery rhyme lyrics you sang as a kid:
"Ring Around the Rosy"

Remember holding hands with your friends, giggling and happily skipping in a circle while singing these lyrics, "Ring around the rosy/A pocket full of posies/Ashes, ashes/We all fall down?" Well, guess what? You were singing about the bubonic plague that devastated London in the 17th century! The "ring around the rosy" lyrics describe the rosy red, ringlike rash that plague victims developed. Thinking that the plague was carried by bad odors, people kept sweet-scented posies in their pockets. The lyrics "we all fall down" and "ashes, ashes" refer to the countless deaths from the disease, and the burning of victims' bodies.
"Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary"

The sweet-sounding lyrics, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary/How does your garden grow?/With silver bells and cockle shells/And pretty maids all in a row" actually refer to the gruesome reign of England's Queen Mary Tudor, known as "Bloody Mary." A devout Catholic, Mary demanded the torture or execution of countless Protestants. The lyrics' "silver bells" refer to thumbscrews, the "cockle shells" refer to torture devices fastened to the genitals, and the "maids" refer to a beheading contraption called the "Maiden," that was used before the invention of the guillotine. You just might think twice next time you feel like ordering a Bloody Mary!
"Rain, Rain, Go Away"

The singsong lyrics, "Rain, rain go away/Come again some other day" are actually about Spain's attempt to wage war against England by sea in 1588. The mighty Spanish Armada set sail with a fleet of more than 130 ships. But heavy rain, which inspired the lyrics, "Rain, rain go away," and speedy English vessels defeated the Spanish attackers and crippled their fleet, leaving them with a mere 65 ships.
"London Bridge"

Aside from its well-known lyrics, "London Bridge is falling down/Falling down, falling down/London Bridge is falling down/My fair lady," are stanzas set to a cheery tune describing disaster after disaster endured by the famous bridge throughout history. The lyrics detail how the bridge was first cobbled together with wood and clay, which "will wash away." In the 980s, invading Vikings completely demolished the bridge. It was rebuilt, only to be destroyed by a tornado in 1091. The bridge was ravaged by fire numerous times, including 1666's Great Fire of London, which attacked its arches and foundations. This ditty, however, has nothing to do with Fergie's version of "London Bridge," and its suggestive lyrics, "How come every time you come around/My London, London Bridge wanna go down," which probably shouldn't be explained to children, either!

To find more scary nursery rhyme lyrics check out Lyricsanimal and their newest lyrics about the horrors lurking behind innocent nursery rhymes.

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