Half-alphabet Nursery Rhymes

—A. Ross Eckler—

[first published in Word Ways November, 2006]

In July 2006 B.D. Stillion wrote

Everywhere [on the Web] I see mentioned Eckler's clever and masterful nursery rhyme lipograms, but nowhere do I see a reference of where they might be available to read (other than "Mary Had a Little Lamb") . . . You are [also] credited with "Little Jack Horner" and most [Web] pages at least imply if not outright state that there is an entire collection. Can you please refer me to a place where I can find them?

Well, no, I can't—because no such place exists. In the Aug 1969 Word Ways I wrote "Mary Had a Lipogram" which featured her minus the letters A,E,T,H,S in turn, and as a lagniappe I wrote of her using only half the alphabet. It's time to validate these Internet claims and provide readers with such a collection. Single-letter lipograms are not much of a challenge, so I have written half-alphabet ones for a variety of nursery rhymes. To keep the job from becoming inordinately difficult, I have tailored the half-alphabets to the individual stories.

[ originals in italics ]

Old King Cole


Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three

Emperor Chan is a frolicsome man,
A frolicsome man is he;
He calls for his pipe and he calls for his fan,
As he hears a fine cello (Chinee)

Hickory, Dickory


Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one, the mouse ran down,
Hickory dickory dock

Pocono rococo rock, a pack-rat ran up a clock;
Clang, clang! Clock rang, and rat ran down—
Pocono rococo rock

Little Jack Horner


Little Jack Horner sat in a corner,
Eating his Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum,
And said, "What a good boy am I!"

Little Sid Snell sat in an ell
To eat a Yuletide pie;
Sid put in a spoon, pried out a prune,
And said "No one's sated as I"

Jack Be Nimble


Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candlestick

Bill be nimble, be not lame,
Bill leap over an open flame

Rock-a-Bye Baby


Rock-a-bye baby on the treetop,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock;
When the bough break the cradle will fall
And down will come cradle, baby and all

Rock, tender infant, in crown of a tree,
To-and-fro wind can rock crib for free;
Wind tore crib off crown—it went down in a trice,
And infant went too (eek! not a bit nice)

Jack Sprat


Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean;
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean

Daniel Chat did eat no fat,
His mate did eat no lean,
So he and she (as one can see)
Left all the dishes clean

Jack and Jill


Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after

Nance and Will did reach the hill
To fetch a can of water;
Will fell down with dented crown,
And Nance then followed after

Humpty Dumpty


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again

Willie Nillie sits on a wall;
Willie Nillie has a great fall;
All regal horses and all regal men
Fail to get Willie together again

Little Miss Muffet


Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
There came a big spider,
And he sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away

Barbara Barber sat in her arbor
To eat tender raspberries (smart!);
A horrid red spider
Appeared there beside her,
Made timid Miss Barber depart

Little Bo-Peep


Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And doesn't know where to find them;
Leave them alone, and they will come home,
Bringing their tails behind them

Little Boo-Hoo has lost her ewe—
Where, oh where, did it wend?
Don't sweat it! Ewe's near, and will soon be here,
With a tail on its little rear end

Three Blind Mice


Three blind mice, see how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife;
She cut off their tails with a carving knife.
Did you ever see such a sight in your life
As three blind mice?

Three blind rats—see them all near.
All ran after the farmer's maid;
She trimmed their tails with a fine steel blade,
A terrible drama, a shambles it made—
These three blind rats

A Diller, a Dollar


A diller, a dollar, a ten o'clock scholar.
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o'clock,
But now you come at noon

A killer, a choler, a ten o'clock scholar
Once came to school too soon.
Last term he came at ten o'clock—
This term he comes at noon

Mary Had a Lamb


Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go;
He followed her to school one day, that was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play to see a lamb in school

Maria had a little sheep, as pale as rime its hair,
And all the places Maria came, the sheep did tail her there.
In Maria's class it came at last (a sheep can't enter there);
It made the children clap their hands—a sheep in class, that's rare!



Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man,
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Bake it and prick it and mark it with a T,
And put it in the oven for Tommy and me

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker man;
Make me a cake at once in a pan.
Pack it and prick it and cook to a tee;
No better cake tendered to Tammie and me!

Hey Diddle Diddle


Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon

Mae diddle daddle, a cat stole a paddle,
A raccoon leapt on a moon slope;
A poodle did snort to see real odd sport,
And plate and spoon did elope

Sing a Song


Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing;
Was not that a dainty dish to set before the king?

Sing a song (no sadness!)—don swallowtail and tie;
Two and nineteen swallows are made into a pie.
Pie is now torn open—listen! Swallows sing;
Great leader eats a tender ort—swallows a swallow wing!

Simple Simon


Simple Simon met a pieman, going to the fair.
Says Simple Simon to the pieman, "Let me taste your ware."
Says the pieman to Simple Simon, "Show me first your penny."
Says Simple Simon to the pieman, "Alas, I have not any."

Simple Simon met a pieman going to the mall.
Calls Simple Simon to the pieman, "Can I sample all?"
States the pieman to Simple Simon, "Slip me one small pence."
Notes Simple Simon to the pieman, "I possess no cents (sense)."

See-saw, Margery


See-saw, Margery Daw,
Jackie shall have a new master;
He shall have but a penny a day
Because he can't work any faster

See-saw, Lorelei Law,
Walter will seek a new master,
Will toil for a florin or less, for a week,
For Walter works slower, not faster

Old Mother Hubbard


Old Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone;
But when she got there the cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none

Old Mother Barber foraged her larder
To get her lean dog a bone;
Mother got there, noted larder all bare;
For the moment her dog garnered none

Goosey, Goosey, Gander


Goosey, goosey, gander. Where do I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers;
So I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs

A goose and a gander—I run through the door.
Neither outside nor inside, no 'Tootsie' ignore!
I saw there a grandsire who dissed his Herr Gott;
When I hoisted his thigh, downstairs he shot!

Would anyone care to rewrite Mother Goose using the same thirteen letters for all? Of the 22 different letters used, their ranks are AN 19, ET 18, IOR 17, L 16, DS 13, M 12, CFHP 10, BW 7, GK 5, U 2, and VY 1. In the classic ETAOIN SHRDLU, letters CFMP equal or outrank H and U.

A. Ross Eckler was editor and publisher of Word Ways from 1968 to 2006 and has written some 300 articles for this quarterly journal, plus three books on wordplay (Word Recreations, Dover 1979; Names and Games, University Press of America 1986; Making the Alphabet Dance, St. Martin's Press 1996). In addition he wrote the privately published book The National Puzzlers' League: The First 115 Years, published in 1998. He is a member of the latter organization and served as president (1985) and editor of their monthly newsletter, The Enigma (1986-88). He received a BA from Swarthmore College in 1950 and a PhD from Princeton University in 1954 in Mathematics and, professionally, was a member of the technical staff as well as department head at Bell Telephone Laboratories 1954-84, consulting with engineers in the fields of statistics and probability (and has an Erdos Number of 2). His past and present avocational interests include ballet, evaluation of extreme human longevity, genealogy and Herkimer County NY local history, hiking, caving, NY-NJ boundary history, and carillon.

content Copyright 2006, A. Ross Eckler—All Rights Reserved
image, "Lamb," Copyright 2006, Darin C. Bradley—All Rights Reserved