Blogger wings it with wordplay

Last week I couldn’t be bloggered so must post now… Scrabbling for inspiration I see my blogger colleague (bloggeague?) Robbie Cheadle has a nice post on nursery rhymes where she quotes Lewis Carroll changing the words of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Any wordplay good enough for Alice in Wonderland is good enough for me too! I’m always changing the words of songs and do it almost automatically in response to feelings and events. As do others – here’s one doing the social media rounds, origin unknown. If we all sing along maybe he’ll get the hint:

Donald the President packed his Trump,

And said goodbye to the White House

As Robbie says, learning and adapting song lyrics is part of language and creativity development for young children (at the other end of the scale there are important benefits for the memory and well-being of dementia patients). Children often make endearing mistakes, which I learn from a fascinating article are called Mondegreens. In my childhood all primary schools whether denominational or not had a Christian hymn at daily assembly and misinterpretations were common among the pre-readers. A more recent one suitable for Covid hoarders is “Come, come ye saints! No toilet paper here!” I found the child who sang that here. I wonder if like many children she follows it with:

Our Father who art in Heaven. Harold be thy name

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

Also hooray for the deliberate adaptions! We all know the shepherds were much too busy washing their socks to keep an eye on any sheep. My family left carols alone but they’d roar round the table at Christmas:

Hitler – has only got one ball

The other is in the Albert Hall

Himmler – has something similar

But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all!

You can find many versions of this surreal take on Captain Bogey’s March in an informative but completely po-faced Wikipedia article that describes this as “a World War II British song that mocks Nazi leaders using blue comedy in reference to their testicles…” I’ve searched for the copyright owner but found only: “There is no known attempt by anyone to claim or enforce a copyright on the lyrics.” Writers should always take care quoting song lyrics.

As a teacher, I used song a lot: as a memory or pronunciation aide, to explain simple concepts and just for good old fun. About ten years ago I had the job of teaching teachers who only spoke English to teach French (which I speak fluently) or Spanish (which I have a basic grasp of) or German and Modern Hebrew (which I don’t speak at all) to their classes – do keep up at the back. That tells you all you need to know about investment in expertise for British state education, except that it’s even worse now. It was uphill but entertaining work. One exercise was to get the teachers in groups to set some key vocabulary/phrases to a well-known tune – at the most basic level this might be the numbers 1-5 or a bit later on, classroom objects to the tune of Y Viva España. The first line was:

La regla, el lápiz, el libro y el papel

Ironically I’ve forgotten the rest but the end of each verse was great fun as we went emphatically down the scale:

(1)¡Y el bol-í-gra-fo! (2) ¡Y el peg-a-men-to!

Gracias to for reminding me of the vocab.

I was on safer ground with French, so cocky I got my knuckles rapped by senior management when I jazzed up the boring compulsory housekeeping announcements at the beginning of each training session. To the tune of Tea for Two:

En cas de feu, vous descendez

Dans le parking, vous rassemblez

Les WC*, vous trouverez

Tout près…

*pronounced lay-vay-cay

Many resource producers were more adept than me and I’ll be forever grateful to the authors of Français, français for setting an action song about body parts to the Match of the Day theme tune. Even the stroppiest kids took notice when they heard that introduction.

Back to messing about with English. If cheerful songs lend themselves particularly well to pastiche (I’m forever blowing bubbles; Yellow Submarine) so do the most respectable of poems. The first lines of To be or not to be, that is the question… must have been casually adapted by most people at some stage in their lives, with or without apologies to Shakespeare. Browning did us all a favour when he wrote, O to be in England, now that April’s here.. It’s a great leveller when we commoners seize ownership of such classics.  Wikipedia may not crack a smile but the rest of us have fun.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

Blogger time, and the writing is easy

Words are flowing, and I’m seizing the day

I don’t earn much, and I’m hardly good-looking

But hush little blogger, it’s all okay!

I didn’t have a post but now I’ve winged it, albeit to a fairly random audience which could include writers, readers, singers, teachers, and humans. Also I just uploaded two illustrations from the free selection rather than adding lots of my own (but that may be a good thing). All those silly songs have released something in me and I think I’ll enter some writing competitions next. Which songs and poems get your creative juices going?

©Jessica Norrie 2020


22 thoughts on “Blogger wings it with wordplay

  1. Hi Jess. lovely read and thanks for drawing it to my attention. However might I have leave to take gentle issue with the Hitler song above? Line two is surely ” Görings got two but very small”. Just saying.:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are many versions, Neville. Must admit I wasn’t ever sure what the Albert Hall had to do with it, that’s why I called the lyrics surreal. The other lines are medical fact, I’m told….


  2. Interesting. Hymns are a fertile ground for this. Choristers have changed their words for centuries, I guess. A couple of examples stand out:

    From a carol: Most highly flavoured gravy

    Parry’s anthem: Best pair of nylons

    And there’s the hilarious scene in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall when the words of the hymn are changed. Are you familiar with it? I can’t remember which one it was, but I’ll look it up if you’re interested.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely to hear from you! Yes by all means look up the Waugh. And Bill has just told me it’s Rossini’s birthday which immediately makes me wonder if I’m the only person who sings “man’s got a head like a ping-pong ball” to the tune of the William Tell overture. Stay safe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard a similar one used as a choir warm-up. Does Dan do it?

        Here’s the Waugh quote:

        ‘O God, our help in ages past,’ sang Paul.
        ‘Where’s Prendergast to-day?’
        ‘What, ain’t you ‘eard? ‘e’s been done in.’
        ‘And our eternal home.’

        ‘Old Prendy went to see a chap
        What said he’d seen a ghost;
        Well, he was dippy, and he’d got
        A mallet and a saw.’

        ‘Who let the madman have the things?’
        ‘The Governor; who d’you think?
        He asked to be a carpenter,
        He sawed off Prendy’s head.

        ‘A pal of mine what lives next door,
        ‘E ‘eard it ‘appening;
        The warder must ‘ave ‘eard it too,
        ‘E didn’t interfere.’

        ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
        Bears all its sons away.’
        ‘Poor Prendy ‘ollered fit to kill
        For nearly ‘alf an hour.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Comedians will have to find a new target for their barbs in January after the President moves on. Maybe “Sleepy Joe” can find him some space in the basement. Of course, we seem to have a never-ending supply of blowhards. That we can count on. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You managed a very entertaining post, Jessica. I’ve seen the Trump one a few times – my Pilates teacher even sang it at the start of class the other day 🙂 My mum used to think the song Don’t Stop the Carnival was Don’t Stop the Car Get Out and continued to sing the wrong words even when we’d told her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can’t claim credit for that, but Trump’s a good subject for satire as were the Nazis. Anything to keep morale up when beating an enemy! The funny thing was my partner and I were both born decades after the war ended but when I asked him if he knew thins song we found we were both word perfect so it must be seeped in the national consciousness!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bravo, Jessica, a most entertaining read. I love to sing and often make up my own words to tunes to get a rise out of other people. Your usage is, of course, far more noble. Helping teachers to teach is a great aim although I find it odd that the English system does use a French speaking person, for example, to teach French. My sons school offers French, Spanish, Latin and German. Each course, excluding Latin [smile] is taught by a person who speaks the language fluently, generally as a home language. Thank you for including the link to my post and for the shout out. I am delighted you enjoyed that article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It was a good article! And don’t get me started on how little our governments invest in our children’s education schools (parents who can afford can always buy a private education of course, those pupils would certainly get well qualified native speakers). In this case it was cheaper to pay one person (me) to cascade to lots of other people who didn’t have the expertise or the skills. Before that many of the primary schools didn’t teach a language at all, so it was an improvement of sorts.

      Liked by 1 person

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