phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Eeny meeny miney mo

Posted by Lewis on February 07, 2003

In Reply to: Eeny meeny miney mo posted by Kai Lung on February 04, 2003

: My father, who is something of a classical scholar, taught me that the verse was originally medieval and Scottish. The verse is supposedly a kind of exorcism that has been garbled in translation, like "Hoc est corpus meum" became "hocus pocus".
: His explanation seems much more rational than any that I have seen on this forum or elsewhere, but I am having trouble finding etymological references for it and would be grateful for any assistance.

: The racial term that seems to be present predated slavery and originally meant the "black one" or the Devil.

: Here's the explanation he gave me:

: First line
: ----------
: "Eeny meeny miney mo"
: Inimicus animo is Latin for "enemy of the spirit".

: Second line
: -----------
: "Catch the [word removed in order to comply with Google's Publisher Policy] by the toe"
: Use of "the" this reinforces the concept that this refers to the Devil. It is further reinforced in that many variants use the term devil.

: Third line
: ----------
: "If he hollers let him go"
: This is the key line. If you catch or pinch a human toe, they will feel it and protest, but the Devil has a cloven hoof and therefore has no sensation in the toe. If the person tested cries out in pain it suggests that they are not the Devil and you should release them.

: As a racial slur the line is meaningless which helps to make the case that the origin is earlier and was not pejorative (except to the Devil, perhaps).

That's a really interesting post - I like the idea and using "the [word removed in order to comply with Google's Publisher Policy]" to mean the Devil or Dark One makes some sense. The rhyme is for choosing and drawing lots is a method of letting the supernatural powers decide. To eliminate the Devil from the choice would be consistent with the use of the rhyme.
Latin was rarely in the knowledge of the peasantry and it is easy to see how such a word as "inimicus" could become "eeny" or eeny-meeny -especially if children were copying misheard and probably badly-spoken latin.

These days [word removed in order to comply with Google's Publisher Policy] is replaced by numerous alternatives - as it is generally regarded as offensive to 'black' people.