With which to frighten the children

Perhaps the most perverse collection of nursery rhymes ever is Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames: The D’Antin Manuscript (1967), and if you read the French-ish part of the title, you get a clue as to how these verses were created.

In case that’s not enough of a clue, and it probably isn’t, here’s how it works:

  1. Choose an English nursery rhyme
  2. Speak said nursery rhyme in an incredibly thick, Monty Python-esque French accent
  3. Write down this homophonic translation, so the words mean something in French, but not the context (forming a nonsense poem in French)
  4. Back translate the French into English (forming a nonsense poem in English)

The example provided is “Humpty Dumpty,” which goes something like this:

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.

Which sounds vaguely like this French verse, if you hold your jaw just right:

Un petit d’un petit
S’étonne aux Halles
Un petit d’un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent
Indolent qui ne sort cesse
Indolent qui ne se mène
Qu’importe un petit
Tout gai de Reguennes.

Now translate this French back into English:

A little one of a little one
Was surprised at the Market
A little one of a little one
Oh, degrees you needed!
Lazy is he who never goes out
Lazy is he who is not led
Who cares about a little one
All happy with Reguennes.

Now I’m wondering how well this would work as a wartime cipher. Surely it wasn’t the intention of author Luis d’Antin van Rooten, who published this book in 1967.

(Via Marion Grace Woolley.)


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