Nursery rhyme

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The term nursery rhyme is used for "traditional" songs for young children in Britain and many other countries, but usage only dates from the 19th century and in North America the older ‘Mother Goose Rhymes’ is still often used.[1]

Contents

History

Lullabies

The oldest children's songs of which we have records are lullabies, intended to help a child sleep. Lullabies can be found in every human culture.[2] The English term lullaby is thought to come from "lu, lu" or "la la" sound made by mothers or nurses to calm children, and "by by" or "bye bye", either another lulling sound, or a term for good night.[3] Until the modern era lullabies were usually only recorded incidentally in written sources. The Roman nurses' lullaby, "Lalla, Lalla, Lalla, aut dormi, aut lacte", is recorded in a scholium on Persius and may be the oldest to survive.[4]

Many medieval English verses associated with the birth of Jesus take the form of a lullaby, including "Lullay, my liking, my dere son, my sweting" and may be versions of contemporary lullabies.[3] However, most of those used today date from the 17th century onwards. One of the most famous "Rock-a-bye, baby on a tree top" is not recorded until the late 18th century by John Newbery (c. 1765).[3]

Early nursery rhymes

From the later Middle Ages we have records of short children's rhyming songs, often as marginalia.[5] From the mid-16th century they begin to be recorded in English plays.[6] Most nursery rhymes were not written down until the 18th century, when the publishing of children's books began to move from polemic and education towards entertainment, but there is evidence for many rhymes existing before this, including "To market, to market" and "Cock a doodle doo", which date from at least the late 16th century.[7]

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