Eenie Meenie Miney Mo

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo is a counting-out rhyme, that is used to choose who is “It” in a playground or other children’s games.

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo Origin

There are very few children’s songs that have the universality of Eenie Meenie Miney Mo and yet so little is known about their origins and original meaning.

A variation of Eenie Meenie Miney Mo can be found across the globe from “Une, mine, mane, mo” in France, to “Eena, meena, ming, mong” in Zimbabwe. Many folklorists and historians tried finding meaning in this simple gibberish counting-out nursery rhyme. Some argued that Eenie Meenie Miney Mo is very close phonetically to “ine mina mana mu”, which means “my sister’s children” in Sao Tomenese. 

This origin theory seems plausible but given that Eenie, meenie is a counting-out rhyme, it may be very possible that it was always a counting rhyme. The Anglo-Cymric score, an ancient sheep-counting system. For example in Lincolnshire, counting from 1 to 20 would sound like this:

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, figgot.

While the words in this particular case do not look alike, the rhythm does. And similar counting system exists elsewhere, the one in the United States starts as Een, teen, tether, fether, fip. It is easy to envision a transition from a rhyming system used to count sheep to a counting-out rhyme that was transmitted orally by generations of children and adults alike.

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo Lyrics

Eeny, meenie, miney mo,:
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers make him pay,
Eenie, meenie, miney, mo

Original Version of the Eenie Meenie Miney Mo

To those who are offended by the original lyrics of this nursery rhyme, please remember that this site is dedicated to the history of rhymes. We don’t suggest that it is used today in this format, we are merely showing the original and most popular version it was known for in the United States. All children in schools use a variety of other terms nowadays.

Eena, meena, mina, mo,
Catch a nigger by the toe;
If he squeals let him go,
Eeena, meena, mina, mo.

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo Music Sheet