Little kids love to play with words. They like riddles and rhymes and they understand puns at a surprisingly young age. One of the earliest word jokes that had me giggling then was about some older kids who got in trouble for phoning neighbors and asking if the refrigerator was running. When the neighbor answered yes, the kids said, ‘Well, you’d better go catch it.”
(Hey – it was funny then when I was only five or six.)
The older kids making the calls liked fooling adults; we younger ones liked the pun. (I think there was a variation involving Prince Albert in a can, but who today would understand anything about loose tobacco packed in tins.)
Doesn’t just about everyone remember this riddle – which works better verbally than in print: What’s black and white and red (read) all over? There was a time when my friends and I found it hysterical.
One of the rhymes every kid in the U.S. memorized must be this one:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky.
Something a friend said recently reminded me that I learned two additional versions of it when I was a kid, and I was surprised to discover that although I’d not thought of them in at least two or three decades, I still know them – or close enough.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – in Latin:
Mica, mica, parva stella,
Miror quaenam sis tam bella.
Splendens eminus in illo
Alba vella gemma caelo.
(Any Latin scholars reading this who see where correction may be needed, please leave a note.)
I have no memory of where I learned the Latin translation or where I learned what my friends and I were told was “The Harvard Version” of the rhyme:
Coruscate, coruscate, diminutive stellar orb
How inexplicable to me is thine existence
Elevated at such an illimitable height
In the illustrious depths of space
And resembling in thy dazzling effulgence
A crystallized carbon gem of unexampled splendor.
Nursery rhymes and fairy tales go back centuries and variations on them are abundant, but I wonder if kids who grow up now in a world of DVDs, PlayStations and the internet still learn nursery rhymes and read Grimm’s fairy tales. It could be that we - today’s elders - are the last generation who will know the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and Rumplestiltskin, Mother Goose rhymes and Aesop’s fables, all of which were high on my personal top ten list when I was eight or ten years old.
What stories, puns, rhymes and riddles do you still remember from your childhood?