17.433 baa baa black sheep?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sun Dec 07 2003 - 04:48:09 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 433.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Sun, 07 Dec 2003 09:28:56 +0000
             From: "Dr. Donald J. Weinshank" <weinshan@cse.msu.edu>
             Subject: "Baa baa black sheep"


    For no particular reason, I began to wonder about the old nursery rhyme,


    Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

    Nursery Rhyme
    Written By: Unknown
    Copyright Unknown

    Baa, baa, black sheep,
    Have you any wool?
    Yes sir, yes sir,
    Three bags full.

    One for the master,
    One for the dame,
    And one for the little boy
    Who lives down the lane.

    Baa, baa, black sheep,
    Have you any wool?
    Yes sir, yes sir,
    Three bags full.

    Assuming that all such nursery rhymes have some historical origin, I did a
    fairly extensive GOOGLE search and turned up only one even plausible


    "As you can see, almost every nursery rhyme has a story behind it. Humpty
    Dumpty was actually King Richard III, and the famous farmer's wife from the
    Three Blind Mice was supposedly Queen Mary I. Baa Baa Black Sheep was about
    taxation, and The Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe was referring to the British
    Empire trying to control its colonies."

    However, the writer does not give any citations which support these

    The curious thing is that "black sheep of the family" is a well known
    expression with a highly negative denotation.


              A worthless or disgraced member of the family.
              Shepherds used to dislike black sheep as their fleeces were worth
    less than those of white sheep. Warning: old joke ahead. 'Why do black sheep
    eat less than white ones?'. 'There aren't as many of them.'

    This only compounds the mystery. I have the hunch that "black sheep" refers
    to some historical scoundrel and that the "master," the "dame" and the
    "little boy" were three figures who were being "paid off" by the scoundrel.

    NOTE: The forgoing is purely uninformed speculation.

    I do not have ready access to THE ANNOTATED MOTHER GOOSE
    (http://www.parent-to-be.com/Annotated_Mother_Goose_0517029596.html) and
    ?v=glance. I did a quick search of Bettleheim's, THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT,
    but turned up nothing.

    Perhaps I should, in the felicitous words of my students, "get a life," but
    curiosity is getting the better of me. (NOTE: It also killed the cat.


    Dr. Don Weinshank Professor Emeritus Comp. Sci. & Eng.
    1520 Sherwood Ave., East Lansing MI 48823-1885
    Ph. 517.337.1545 FAX 517.337.2539

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