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A Gruesome Kid’s Song

Alouette. I sung it as a child. I’m sure you did too. It’s a familiar and catchy little tune; Alouette, gentille Alouette… All these years though, and I’ve never actually known what I’ve been singing about. In fact, I confess, I always thought it was Alouette, jonty Alouette. I had no clue what ‘jonty’ meant. But then I didn’t know what an Alouette was either.

Then, many years later, I found myself on an intensive French language course. I really disliked that course. 6 months of studying a language I find so difficult – it would have helped to have supportive teachers, instead of ones that made you feel 3 inches tall when you couldn’t remember a verb. As testimony to the quality of the course, I offer the fact that, despite progressing to – and passing – level 3 (which they term ‘intermediate’), I still didn’t know how to say “sorry, I can’t speak French”, in French! I digress. Back to the Alouette song…

As part of this course, we sung. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed, but a least I was in the corner at the back, so I could sing quietly and not be noticed. One of these songs, of course, was Alouette. We attacked it with gusto. A song that we could all handle. The words were there on the song sheet, so we read, we sung. We didn’t understand.

After a few renditions, it was time to actually discover what the words meant.


An Alouette, or Lark, taking a last ruffle of its feathers before a French kid plucks them.

For those still in the dark, the song is about plucking a bird (an Alouette is a bird. Actually, it’s French for Lark. I know that now). Each verse details the progressive mutilation of this innocent little creature. Depending upon the version, you pluck the feathers on it’s head, then the wings, and and the back, even the poor little bugger’s beak gets tugged out! And no mention of the bird being deceased before the commencement of this torture either. Disturbing.

Naturally, I did what all self-respecting, sane, relatively new parents would do. I found a version on YouTube, and played it to my 10 month old son. He loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Wanted me to replay it over and over. It rivaled Beyonce’s Single Ladies as his all time favourite (what is it with that Beyonce video mesmerizing babies?).

My son’s favourite version of Alouette:

Of course, the French are not the only ones to impose songs and rhymes of dubious content on the next generation. It got me thinking of a few other little ditties we used to sing. It’s no wonder we all grew up to need therapy:

– Rock-a-bye, baby in the treetop… When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall, And down will come baby, Cradle and all – what kind of whack-job would hang a baby in a treetop? Especially on a windy day.

Humpty Dumpty, a giant EGG with arms and legs fell off a wall and smashed his head into pieces. (“Daddy, what have you been smoking?”) The King’s Men, couldn’t save him, and presumably with that level of head trauma, the paramedics wouldn’t have fared any better.

Jack and Jill fell down the hill. Jack broke his crown. No word on whether he’s going to survive, or on Jill’s condition.

– Oh, and in other news London Bridge is falling down.

It’s worse than the six o’clock news.

Any more unsettling kids tunes spring to mind?

  1. May 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Yes, I recall French class in High School and learning the alouete secret…sickening, really. Anyway, in other nursery rhymes from Heck, Ring Around The Rosie was actually a song that was sort of a death march that was sung, I believe…not double checking my facts here, in Ireland when a plague was in full swing killing off people by the droves. Nice, right?

    • May 23, 2011 at 10:57 am

      I remember Ring Around the Rosie, but I had to confess, I had to look it up for the words and meaning. My GOD! It’s about the plague! From Wikipedia: The invariable sneezing and falling down in modern English versions have given would-be origin finders the opportunity to say that the rhyme dates back to the Great Plague. A rosy rash, they allege, was a symptom of the plague, posies of herbs were carried as protection and to ward off the smell of the disease. Sneezing or coughing was a final fatal symptom, and ‘all fall down’ was exactly what happened.

  2. Maria
    May 17, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    There’s the classic Three Blind Mice where the farmer’s wife mutilates three visually-impaired rodents. Another one from my childhood is the one that starts “There was an old lady who lived in a shoe…” (Oddly, though, it’s been featured in a commercial for a real estate company recently–but they made her too nice.) My mom used to love hanging that one over my head when I stepped out of line when I was little, saying that she would send me to live with the mean old woman in the shoe. Scared me straight, alright.

    • May 23, 2011 at 10:51 am

      Very good call. The three blind mice thought they were going on to better things when they escaped the animal testing laboratory, and settled down in a nice farm. Fools. By the way, I think the old woman who lived in a shoe, now works in a daycare in Pierrefonds.

  3. May 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    How did I grow up a bi-lingual child & not know the meaning of this song?!?!?!?!

    • May 23, 2011 at 10:47 am

      I don’t think you really think about what you’re singing as a young child, do you? I’ve only really thought about these since the Alouette incident. That poor little bird…

  4. Laura
    January 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Oh my god! Yes, children’s songs have creepy and interesting meanings. After my aunt told me what ‘Ring Around the Rosies’ meant she told me “You won’t believe what merry-go-rounds were”. So I looked it up… Apparently knights used it as training to stab their victims while riding their horses. The goal was to be able to stick your weapon through a ring set in the middle of the track. It’s not a song, but it’s still pretty macabre.

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