On The Evolution of the Words "Pee" and "Poop."

(here's a cross-post from Playground Jungle)

Folklorists generally ignored fart rhymes and other "naughty" ones up until about the 1970s. Even Iona Opie, a nursery rhyme expert who was no prude, was referring to "unprintable rhymes" in the 1950s. But it can generally be assumed that any time you find a counting-out rhyme about a stink, that rhyme was also used when someone farted.

Here's one from The Counting Out Rhymes of Children, an 1888 tome by a guy named Henry Carrington Bolton (with a name like that, he just about HAD to be a 19th century scholar):

Ink, pink, a penny a wink
Oh, how do you stink!

-- (Ontario, Canada)

Another one goes back even further - Mary Cooper recorded it in Tom Thumb's Pretty Song Book, the very oldest surviving collection of nursery rhymes, which she published in 1744

Little robin redbreast sat on a pole
niddle noddle went his head, poop went his hole

Eventually people cleaned up the last line - it was later published as "wiggle waggle went his tail," which, of course, doesn't even rhyme. Lame. Incidentally, the "poop" here means "fart." When the word "poop" first appeared in America, it meant "butt." In 1640, a guy named Ned Ward wrote a sentence that went "while he manages his whiffle staff with one hand, he scratches his poop with the other." But a 1714 dictionary actually defined the word "poop" as "to break wind backwards." It didn't start being used in its modern sense until around 1900 (according to the book on the left).  So, while "poop" has become a broadly accepted, even polite term for both excretion and that which one excretes, you're really showing that you're a fan of traditional values when you use a much older term, like %&%^.

Another rhyme in the same 1744 collection:

Piss a bed, piss a bed,
barley butt
your bum is so heavy
you can't get up

This later turned up in Joyce's Ulysses.. "Piss" meant the same thing then as it does now - in fact, it's one of the older words in the English language. People starting saying the first initial, "pee" (I suppose we should spell it "p---" ) when "piss" started to be considered impolite. Even the cleaned-up versions of the rhymes are pretty well out of circulation now, as far as we can tell, but the 1700s were not a terribly prudish time.

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